U.S. Blocks U.N. Resolution Calling Israeli Settlements 'Illegal'

Security Council Vote Put U.S. in Diplomatic Bind Over Settlements

February 18, 2011, 5:24 PM

Feb. 18, 2011— -- The U.S. today vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as "illegal" and ordered all construction operations there to stop.

The U.S. was the sole no vote on the 15-member Security Council, which had broadly supported the Palestinian-sponsored resolution. The Obama administration's veto will likely deepen anger towards the U.S., both among leaders of the Palestinian Authority and across the Arab world.

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said after the vote that the U.S. position should not be seen as a support for Israel's settlement program. "We reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity," she said.

But Rice said that opposition to the resolution stemmed from a belief that it would not help the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides," she said. "It could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations, and, if and when they resumed, to return to the Security Council whenever they reached an impasse."

The vetoed resolution said "the Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace."

Talks between both sides have stalled in recent weeks, largely over the settlement issue, with Palestinians insisting they will not return to the table until Israel stops building on territory the Palestinians believe should be theirs. Israel had imposed a 10-month freeze on construction, but lifted the ban in September.

The U.S. had sought to head off a vote on the resolution by proposing several alternatives to Palestinian leaders. But the effort, which included a personal call by President Obama to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, ultimately failed.

U.S. Vetoes UN Resolution on Israel and Palestinians

The Palestinians, frustrated by a lack of progress on a path to independent statehood, have sought to push their case in the United Nations. The resolution today had more than 100 co-sponsors.

The vote had put the Obama administration in a diplomatic jam, trying to keep up relations both with the Israelis and Palestinians.

On Nov. 2, 2009, Secretary of State Hillary 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.

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