Will the Obama Administration Veto UN Resolution Critical of Israel?

Feb. 18, 2011 -- The Obama administration finds itself in a diplomatic jam.

It is possible that later today it will have to decide whether or not to break from its steadfast support for Israel in the United Nations and support a measure in the Security Council that nearly reiterates its own policy.

The source of the quandary is a resolution introduced at the Security Council last month by Lebanon and backed by more than a hundred countries, that would condemn Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank as "illegal."

The United States, seeking to avoid a step it believes would further complicate efforts to revive stalled peace talks, has since scrambled to prevent the resolution from being put to a vote.

Led by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, the United States has proposed alternatives, including a weaker so-called Presidential Statement that it says would be non-binding and also balance the criticism by mentioning rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza, according to a U.S. official.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on Thursday that the U.S. is searching for a solution, but wouldn't say what.

"We are working with our partners in the Security Council, with our friends in the region, to find a consensus way forward that is consistent with our overall approach. There are a lot of rumors flying around and I'm not going to get into any specifics at this time," she said.

U.N. diplomats tell ABC News the Palestinians have to decide over the next few hours whether to accept the alternative, otherwise the Lebanese are prepared to put the original resolution to a vote on Friday afternoon.

If the resolution comes to a vote the United States would have to decide whether to veto it or abstain and let it pass.

This week, the United States stepped up the pressure to avoid a vote on the resolution.

Ambassador Rice met with several of her counterparts from Arab countries, including the Palestinians, and on Thursday President Obama phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

It appears the Palestinians and their Arab backers remain undeterred.

A spokesman for President Abbas was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying that during the lengthy call, President Obama made clear the U.S. would veto a resolution if it came to a vote and President Abbas vowed not to back down.

Following the call, Abbas reportedly called an emergency meeting with Palentine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah leadership.

What makes the proposed resolution so awkward for the United States is how closely its text is to U.S. rhetoric slamming Israel for its continued settlement activity over the past two years.

That's no accident. Diplomatic sources say the resolution's authors purposely based its wording on how the United States has expressed its criticism, making it harder for the United States to not publicly support it at the United Nations.

Indeed, on Nov. 2, 2009, Secretary Clinton declared that "the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," a position she reiterated in a speech to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC on March 22, 2010 and again in a speech to the Saban Center Forum on Dec. 10, 2010.

On May 27, 2009, she said President Obama had told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that "he wants to see a stop to settlements, not – some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions. We think it is in the best interest of the effort we are engaged in that settlement expansion cease."

The Obama administration has maintained that it is focused on bringing the two parties together for negotiations and that such efforts at the United Nations only enflame tensions, something Secretary Clinton stressed on Thursday.

"Our focus is on doing what is best to advance negotiations between the parties that will lead to a two state solution and we have consistently over many years said that the United Nations Security Council resolutions that would come before the Security Council are not the right vehicle to advance that goal," she said.

This diplomatic showdown comes as Mideast peace talks remain stalled after they broke down just weeks after they began in early September, stymied by an inability to resolve the settlement issue.

The Palestinians, frustrated by a lack of progress in the peace process, have sought to push their case in the United Nations, including an effort to get the world body to recognize an independent Palestinian state.

The American push for a weaker Presidential Statement has been further complicated by the fact that, while the U.S. insists now that such measures are non-binding, Ambassador Rice argued the opposite about an earlier Presidential Statement condemning North Korea.

How Will the U.S. Vote?

American domestic politics hasn't made it any easier for the administration either.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the new chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and a staunch supporter of Israel, issued a statement slamming the Obama administration for reportedly wavering in its decision on how to handle the vote in the Security Council.

"Support for this anti-Israel statement is a major concession to enemies of the Jewish State and other free democracies. It telegraphs that the U.S. can be bullied into abandoning critical democratic allies and core U.S. principles," she said.

"Offering to criticize our closest ally at the UN isn't leadership, it's unacceptable. Pretending that criticism of Israel is OK if it comes in a 'Presidential Statement' instead of a resolution isn't leadership, it's unacceptable. Twisting and turning and trying yourself into knots to avoid using our veto to defend our allies and interests isn't leadership, it's unacceptable," she added.

The Ranking Member on the committee, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), also urged the Obama administration to veto the resolution.

"I strongly urge the Palestinians, for the sake of peace, to cease their efforts at the UN and return at once to the negotiating table. Should they nevertheless persist, I strongly urge the Administration to veto any UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel and to oppose use of any international forum for anti-Israel purposes," he said.

Sen. Mike Johanns, a Republican from Nebraska, piled on, saying in a statement that "The Obama administration is heading down a dangerous course that is unacceptable for our country and our relationship with Israel."

"Abandoning one of our most important allies in the name of negotiation is wrong and won't bring us any closer to a two-state solution," said Johanns, who as one of 17 senators from both sides of the aisle who sent Secretary Clinton a letter last month demanding that the U.S. veto the resolution.

"We believe such a move hurts the prospects for a peace agreement and is not in the interest of the United States," the senators wrote to Clinton in their January 18 letter, the same day Lebanon introduced the resolution to the Security Council.

ABC News' Jake Tapper and Matt Jaffe contributed to this report.