UN Security Council postpones vote on Israeli settlements

A construction site is seen in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, in the occupied West Bank December 22, 2016. — Reuters pic
A construction site is seen in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, in the occupied West Bank December 22, 2016. — Reuters pic

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 23 — The UN Security Council yesterday postponed a contentious vote on a draft resolution demanding that Israel halt its settlement activities as President-elect Donald Trump weighed in and said the United States should veto the measure.

Egypt requested the delay one day after submitting the draft text to the council, a move that triggered immediate calls from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a US veto to block the resolution.

A similar resolution was vetoed by the United States in 2011, and it remained unclear whether Washington would shift its stance this time, possibly abstaining to allow the measure to pass, although without US support.

“Israelis deeply appreciate one of the great pillars of the US-Israel alliance: The willingness over many years of the United States to stand up in the UN and veto anti-Israel resolutions,” Netanyahu said.

“I hope the US won't abandon this policy.”

Israel launched a frantic lobbying effort to pressure Egypt to drop the bid and reached out to its supporters in the United States and at the Security Council for support.

Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon said his government was deploying “diplomatic efforts on all fronts to ensure that this disgraceful resolution will not pass in the Security Council.”

A UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, dubbed the Israeli lobbying a “diplomatic World War III” and a senior Security Council diplomat suggested that the motion could be buried indefinitely.

“There was a window of opportunity. Whether that window is still there is really not clear,” said a Western diplomat.

Trump calls for US veto

Trump, who campaigned on a promise to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, bluntly said Washington should use its veto to block the resolution.

“The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed,” he said in a statement.

“As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations,” he said.

“This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.”

Arab ambassadors held an emergency meeting at the United Nations to press Egypt to move ahead with a vote and an Arab League committee met in Cairo to discuss the fate of the motion.

Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour said Trump's call for a veto was in response to pressure from the Israeli prime minister. “He is acting on behalf of Netanyahu,” he said.

Trump has chosen as ambassador to Israel the hardliner David Friedman, who has said Washington will not pressure Israel to curtail settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

No new timeframe was announced for the vote, which had been scheduled for 3pm (2000 GMT) yesterday.

Illustrating how the Egyptian decision caught Washington flat-footed, Secretary of State John Kerry cancelled plans to make remarks laying out a "vision" for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Kerry spoke to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday and then, after the Egyptian decision, to Netanyahu yesterday.

“The secretary was preparing to deliver some remarks today about a vision for the Middle East and certainly for the Middle East peace process itself, and he decided in light of the postponement itself that it would be prudent for him to postpone his remarks,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in Washington.

Saving the two-state solution

Israeli settlements are seen as a major stumbling block to peace efforts, as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

The United Nations maintains that settlements are illegal, but UN officials have reported a surge in construction over the past months.

The draft resolution demands that “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

It states that Israeli settlements have "no legal validity" and are “dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution” that would see an independent Palestine co-exist alongside Israel.

UN diplomats have for weeks speculated over whether the administration of President Barack Obama would refrain from using its veto.

Obama's administration has expressed mounting anger over the continued expansion of the Jewish outposts and speculation has grown that he could launch a final initiative before leaving.

The Middle East peace process has been comatose since a US initiative to re-launch peace talks collapsed in April 2014. 

France announced plans to host an international conference on January 15 to try to restart talks based on the two-state solution. — AFP