ABC News' Jake Tapper and Kirit Radia report: No one in the Obama administration has publicly said how the U.S. will vote if a Lebanese resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity as “illegal” comes before the United Nations Security Council for a vote, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.
The resolution asserts “that all Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of peace on the basis of the two-State solution,” condemns the “continuation of settlement activities by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” and demands “that Israel, the occupying Power, immediately and completely ceases all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard.”
The Lebanese began circulating a draft in December, and, sources tell ABC News, American diplomats worked to avoid having the resolution come before the council. It has yet to be introduced but the resolution’s status is currently “in blue” – meaning it could be introduced at any time. Israel, needless to say, opposes the resolution vehemently.
American diplomats led by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Dr. Susan Rice have in recent days been pushing a “presidential statement” that says the Security Council "expresses its strong opposition to any unilateral actions by any party, which cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community, and reaffirms, that it does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process,” according to a draft of the presidential statement obtained by Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch.
That is tamer than calling the settlements “illegal” — and also taking what the U.S. government would view as a more balanced approach by also condemning “rocket fire from Gaza.” But it would still constitute an official rebuke of Israel, which many friends of the Jewish state oppose.
The UN Security Council has three types of actions: the resolution, which is the highest level; the “presidential statement,” considered less serious and not legally binding; and lastly, the president of the UN Security Council would come out of the meeting and read talking points upon which the 15 members all agreed.
Dr. Rice has tried to get the Arab bloc – Lebanon is the only Arab country on the UN Security Council this year – to go along with this lesser rebuke, but Arab countries last night reportedly balked.
Now comes the dilemma for the U.S., assuming Lebanon’s resolution is introduced – would it veto Lebanon’s statement? Would it abstain but allow the resolution to pass?
UPDATE at 2:34pm ET
Jake Tapper asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney during today's press briefing how the U.S. would vote. Here is what Carney said:
TAPPER: Lebanon on the U.N. Council is working on a resolution or has drafted a resolution that would condemn Israel for what it calls illegal settlement activity. Now, I know Dr. Rice has been working on an alternative up there, a presidential statement that would call the settlement activity illegitimate not illegal, but that seems to be going nowhere. If it does come up for a vote in the U.N. Security Council, how will the United States vote on a resolution calling Israeli settlement activity illegal?
CARNEY: Well, first of all, no resolution, Jake, has been put forward for a vote. And I would not want to speculate on what action the United States would take — may or may not take on that matter. But I would also say that I'm not going to get into details of ongoing private diplomatic discussions in New York, the United Nations, regarding this matter. We, like every administration for decades, do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. We believe their continued expansion is corrosive not only to peace efforts and a two-state solution, which we strongly support, but to Israel's future itself. And finally, we have long said that we believe direct negotiations are the only path through which the parties will ultimately reach an agreement. And that's — and that's what we believe strongly today, as we have in the past.
TAPPER: So it's the position of the White House, as it has been for several White Houses, that settlement activity in Israel is illegitimate, is corrosive to the peace process. Do you think it's illegal?
CARNEY: What we have said is we believe it's illegitimate, and we've been very clear about that. And we also believe that the best forum for making progress in the negotiations, in the peace process, is in direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians in order to reach that goal of a two-state solution with security for both states. And it's far better to pursue that path than others.