The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton laid out the US president Barack Obama's position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank in blunt terms two years ago. "He wants to see a stop to settlements - not some settlements, not outposts, not 'natural growth' exceptions," she said. "That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly ... and we intend to press that point."
Has the US policy changed since then or was it not being truthful about its policy? As Washington considers its vote on a draft resolution condemning West Bank settlements, submitted to the UN Security Council last week by members of the Arab League and its supporters, that question must be asked. Three members of the Security Council have co-sponsored the draft, including Russia, whose president, Dmitry Medvedev, reaffirmed a commitment to an independent Palestinian state last week.
Since direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority collapsed last year when Israel failed to continue a settlement freeze, the Israeli government has done little to demonstrate a willingness to stop construction or get back to the negotiating table. Since November nearly 1,300 housing units have been approved in East Jerusalem, and another 800 in the West Bank - a move which the US president called "unhelpful" to the peace process.
If Washington does not support a resolution condemning Israel's actions, it risks violating its own stated position and policy. The decision would demonstrate that the US is held hostage by the acts of an intransigent Israeli government, willing to undermine the peace process at every turn. No party that claims to be an honest broker of peace can have such a relationship. The US appears ready to sacrifice its commitment to the Palestinian people in favour of an alliance with Israel that often works against its own interests.
Frustrated by failed US initiatives, the Palestinian Authority has turned to the UN. Perhaps this appeal to the international community will concentrate the minds of decision makers in Washington where sentiments do appear to be changing. In an open letter to the president last week, a collection of prominent US officials, scholars and journalists, including former US ambassadors to Israel, secretaries of state and defence, criticised settlement building and supported the UN resolution, saying it was essential to US credibility.
Having separated from the pack many times before on Israeli policy, the US may have to follow the crowd in order to preserve its integrity.