TEL AVIV // Palestinians yesterday lambasted the US veto of an Arab-backed United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel's settlement expansion as "miserable and unbalanced" and warned that it would hurt Washington's image in the Middle East.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior aide to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, yesterday called the veto a "heavy blow" to the negotiations. He told reporters that "the Palestinians won't consider the Americans a fair mediator in the peace process". Nabil Abu Rdainah, another aide to Mr Abbas, said the veto "encourages Israel to continue constructing settlements and avoid its commitments in the peace process".
The administration of Barack Obama, the US president, opted to have the US be the only country in the 15-member UN Security Council that opposed the resolution after it failed to persuade Mr Abbas to withdraw the motion altogether or pass a non-binding statement that would have had no enforcement authority on Israel. It was the first US veto exercised in the UN's top body since Mr Obama came into office in January 2009.
The US move momentarily spurred a unity among the two main Palestinian factions - the secular Fatah in the West Bank and the Islamic Hamas in the Gaza Strip - that have been fiercely divided since a civil war in 2007 in Gaza that led Hamas militants to take over the enclave after ousting Fatah forces.
Both groups yesterday reacted angrily to Washington's veto.
Tawfiq Tirawi, a member of Fatah's central committee, called on the Palestinians to organise demonstrations next Friday and carry out a "day of rage" against the US decision.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum described the US move as "immoral behaviour and a disregard of the international community." He also called on Fatah to cease all kinds of negotiations and liaisons with Israel and added: "Let's start a new phase to empower the internal Palestinian unity."
Egypt, which in the past has helped mediate between Israelis and Palestinians but whose future role in the peace process remains unclear following the ousting of Hosni Mubarak from the presidency this month, called the US veto "disappointing." Hossam Zaki, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, was reported by the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur as saying that the stance "was not only disappointing to the Palestinian and Arab people, but also on an international level, especially in all of the states that supported the draft resolution."
The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, which has an observer status at the UN, has escalated its diplomatic lobbying of UN Security Council members to approve the resolution since it was filed by a group of UN members led by Arab states last month.
Analysts have said that the Palestinians could not have politically afforded to cave in to US pressure to cancel the draft resolution amid waning domestic support for a leadership increasingly viewed as incapable of delivering the long-sought independent Palestinian state. Palestinian officials have also feared that cancelling the resolution may spark unrest at home amid the growing anti-government protests across the Middle East.
Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the UK's ambassador to the UN, spoke on behalf of Britain, France and Germany - the former two being permanent UN Security Council members - said the countries were concerned about the stalemate in talks. "Our views on settlements, including in East Jerusalem, are clear: they are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace and constitute a threat to a two-state solution."
Susan Rice, Washington's ambassador in the UN, told council members following the vote that the veto "should not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity" and cautioned that the draft "risks hardening the positions of both sides" in the negotiations.
Israel has expressed satisfaction with the torpedoing of the resolution by the US, its staunchest ally. A statement late on Friday from the office of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister and leader of a predominantly pro-settler governing coalition, said that "the only path to peace will come through direct negotiations and not through the decisions of international bodies."
Yesterday, Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister and a top member of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, accused the Palestinians of trying to "circumvent direct negotiations and impose a solution" and called on them to "halt political attacks against Israel."
Israel has stepped up its lobbying of western governments to topple any UN Security Council move that would sharpen an already increasing international condemnation of its settlement construction. The country's refusal to freeze the building of Jewish homes in the occupied West Bank - land the Palestinians want as part of their future state - prompted US-mediated talks with the Palestinians to collapse in September.