US abstention allows UN to demand end to Israeli settlements

The United Nations security council has adopted a landmark resolution demanding a halt to all Israeli settlement in the occupied territories after Barack Obama’s administration refused to veto the resolution.

A White House official said Obama had taken the decision to abstain in the absence of any meaningful peace process.

The resolution passed by a 14-0 vote on Friday night. Loud applause was heard in the packed chamber when the US ambassador, Samantha Power, abstained.

All remaining members of the security council, including the UK, voted in support. Egypt, which had drafted the resolution and had been briefly persuaded by Israel to postpone the vote, also backed the move.

Friday’s vote was scheduled at the request of four countries – New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela – who stepped in to push for action a day after Egypt put the draft resolution on hold.

Israel recalled its ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal in protest on Saturday.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s office said the vote was “a big blow” to Israeli policy and a show of “strong support for the two-state solution”.

The resolution says Israel’s settlements on Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have “no legal validity” and demands a halt to “all Israeli settlement activities,” saying this “is essential for salvaging the two-state solution”.

The resolution reiterated that Israeli settlement was a “flagrant violation” of international law.

The United States vetoed a similar resolution in 2011, which was the sole veto cast by the Obama administration at the security council.

The abstention decision underlined the tension between Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who had made furious efforts to prevent such a move.

A resolution requires nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the United States, France, Russia, Britain or China in order to be adopted. Among those who welcomed the resolution was UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

“The secretary general takes this opportunity to encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work with the international community to create a conducive environment for a return to meaningful negotiations,” said his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

Explaining the US abstention, Power said the Israeli settlement “seriously undermines Israel’s security”, adding : “The United States has been sending a message that the settlements must stop privately and publicly for nearly five decades.”

Power said the US did not veto the resolution because the Obama administration believed it reflected the state of affairs regarding settlement and remained consistent with US policy.

“One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution that would end the conflict. One had to make a choice between settlements and separation,” Power said.

The US decision to abstain was immediately condemned by Netanyahu’s office as “shameful” which pointedly referred to Israel’s expectation of working more closely with Donald Trump.

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