US abstains, Israeli settlement resolution passes at UN Security Council
After a US abstention, the UN Security Council passes a resolution simultaneously declaring settlements illegal, while also demanding a halt to their construction; US ambassador Power: 'One cannot champion settlements and the two state solution.'
The US abstained from a contentious UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to settlement construction while simultaneously declaring them illegal.
The resolution was put forth by Venezuela, New Zealand, Malaysia and Senegal a day after Egypt withdrew under heavy pressure from Israel and President-elect Donald Trump.
Earlier, an Israeli official on Friday accused President Barack Obama of colluding with the Palestinians in a "shameful move against Israel at the UN" after learning the White House did not intend to veto a Security Council resolution condemning settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem the day before.
"President Obama and Secretary Kerry are behind this shameful move against Israel at the UN," the official said. "The US administration secretly cooked up with the Palestinians an extreme anti-Israeli resolution behind Israel's back which would be a tail wind for terror and boycotts and effectively make the Western Wall occupied Palestinian territory," he said calling it "an abandonment of Israel which breaks decades of US policy of protecting Israel at the UN."
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon criticized the decision, saying, "Neither the Security Council nor UNESCO will rewrite history and to sever the link between the people of Israel and the land of Israel. Efforts to attack Israel through the United Nations will not help and will not further a solution. Palestinians will not achieve anything if they do not stop the incitement and terrorism and return to direct negotiations with Israel. "
Danon addressed the American move saying, "Israel would expect her biggest friend to act in accordance with long-standing policy and veto the unilateral decision." Furthermore, Danon added that, "No doubt the change of US administration will bring a new era."
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Friday the United States had abandoned Israel by abstaining from the vote.
"This is not a resolution against settlements, it is an anti-Israel resolution, against the Jewish people and the state of the Jews. The United States tonight has simply abandoned its only friend in the Middle East," said Steinitz, who is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Voices of opposition in the US
US officials from across the board reacted to the decision, with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan calling the abstention "absolutely shameful" and a "blow to peace." Similarly, Republican Senator John McCain said the abstention makes the US "complicit in this outrageous attack" against Israel.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who oversees the Senate subcommittee that controls United States' UN funding, threatened on Friday to pull financial support for the international body if it moves forward with a vote on a resolution over Israeli settlements, and for any nation that backs the measure.
"If the United Nations moves forward with this ill-conceived resolution, I will work to form a bipartisan coalition to suspend or significantly reduce United States assistance to the United Nations," said Graham. Furthermore, Graham said on Friday that US foreign policy under President Barack Obama "has gone from naive and foolish to flat-out reckless."
The senior Republican senator, in a note on Twitter after the vote, said: "With friends like these, #Israel doesn't need any enemies."
"Regardless of the terrorist attacks they suffer or the number of rockets fired their way, in the United Nations Israel is always the bad guy."
President-elect Trump responded to the vote saying, "Things will be different after Jan. 20th."
"This is a day of victory for international law, a victory for civilized language and negotiation and a total rejection of extremist forces in Israel," Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters. "The international community has told the people of Israel that the way to security and peace is not going to be done through occupation ... but rather through peace, ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state to live side by side with the state of Israel on the 1967 line," Erekat said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the resolution "a slap in the face to Israeli policy" and an "absolute international condemnation to settlements and unanimous support for a two-state solution."
The internationally-recognized Palestinian terrorist group Hamas responded positively to the resolution, saying, "Hamas welcomes the UN Security Council regarding the settlements. This decision confirms the world's resistance to the Israeli occupation policy."
Last minute drama
Prior to the vote on the adoption of the UN resolution, Egypt called off a planned vote in the Security Council hours before it was to take place. In the diplomatic activity ahead of the postponement, both Netanyahu and Trump issued nearly identical statements urging the US to veto the measure.
Palestinian FM Riyad Al-Malki called the Egyptian move "suicidal" and noted that, "Palestine still hopes that there will be a reexamination of the issue because we believe that this draft resolution reflects a great victory not only for Palestinians, but also for the Arab world," said Al-Maliki.
According to a senior Israeli official, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned to President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team to help head off a critical UN resolution after learning that the White House did not intend to veto the measure.
The Egyptian-sponsored resolution had demanded that Israel halt settlement activities in occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians and declared that existing settlements "have no legal validity."
"After becoming aware that the administration would not veto the anti-Israel resolution, Israeli officials reached out to Trump's transition team to ask for the president-elect's help to avert the resolution," the Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity.
Additionally, the official added that Israel sees the Obama administration's intent to avoid vetoing the resolution as a violation of "core commitment" of US security and a final attempt to tie the hands of the incoming administration.
On Friday, Egypt said its president had received a call from Trump in which they both agreed to give the incoming US administration a chance to try and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The call came hours after Egypt indefinitely postponed the UN vote.
Egyptian presidential spokesman Alaa Yousef said, "During the conversation, they discussed regional issues and developments in the Middle East. The Presidents agreed on the importance of providing adequate opportunity to the new US administration to deal with every aspect of the Palestinian issue, in order to achieve a full and final settlement".
The proposed resolution is more symbolic than practical. While it did not call for imposing sanctions on Israel, its language can hinder Israel's negotiating position in future peace talks.
Given the widespread international opposition to the settlements, it would have been nearly impossible for the Trump administration to reverse it.
In a Christmas greeting on Friday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said: "Despite the Israeli occupation, our presence in our homeland and the preservation of our cultural and national heritage are the most important form of resistance in the face of the darkness of a foreign colonialist occupying power."