x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

US vetoes UN draft resolution condemning Israeli settlements

US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice tells council members that the veto "should not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity."

UNITED NATIONS // The United States vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements on Palestinian land after the Palestinians refused a compromise offer from Washington.

The US move was welcomed by American pro-Israel groups, some of which have previously criticised President Barack Obama's administration for what they see as its record of lukewarm support for Israel.

The permanent Palestinian observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said the US veto could send the wrong signal to Israel. "We fear ... that the message sent today may be one that further encourages Israeli intransigence and impunity," he said.

UN diplomats say the Palestinian Authority, which has been trying to defend itself against critics who accuse it of caving in to the Americans and Israelis during peace talks, was eager to show that it can stand up to Washington.

The other 14 Security Council members voted in favour of the draft resolution. But the United States, as one of the five permanent council members with the power to block any action by the Security Council, voted against it and struck it down.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told council members that the veto "should not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity." The US position is that continued Israeli settlements lack legitimacy, she said.

But Ms Rice said the draft "risks hardening the position of both sides" and reiterated the US view that settlements and other contentious issues should be resolved in direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

The resolution described the settlements as "illegal" and urged Israel to "immediately and completely" halt all settlement activities. Diplomats said the views contained in the resolution, which would have been legally binding had it passed, are generally supported by the Obama administration.

However, they said, the United States refuses to allow the Security Council to intervene with binding resolutions on issues it feels belongs to direct peace talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Israel "deeply appreciates" the US decision to veto the resolution.

Peace talks collapsed last year after Israel refused to extend a moratorium on settlements.

The Palestinians say continued building flouts the internationally backed peace plan that will permit them to create a viable, contiguous state on the land after a treaty with Israel to end its occupation and 62 years of conflict.

Israel says this is an excuse for avoiding peace talks and a precondition never demanded before during 17 years of negotiation, which has so far produced no agreement.

The Palestinian Authority earlier on Friday decided to insist that the resolution be put to the council, and rejected the US compromise offer of a non-binding Security Council statement chiding Israel over the settlements despite a telephone call from Mr Obama to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday.