UN Security Council demands end to Israeli settlements after US abstains from vote

UN Security Council

UN Security Council

After the United States abstained from voting, the UN Security Council on Friday passed a resolution demanding Israel stop building settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, a reversal of the usual US practice of protecting Israel.

The resolution was put forward at the 15-member council for a vote on Friday by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal a day after Egypt withdrew the resolution under pressure from Israel and US President-elect Donald Trump. Israel and Trump had called on the United States to veto the measure.

It was adopted with 14 votes in favour, to a round of applause. It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.

“The international community has told the people of Israel that the way to security and peace is not going to be done through occupation,” Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the US had “abandoned Israel” after the vote. A representative from the Israeli prime minister’s office said Israel would not abide by the terms of the resolution.

US President-elect Donald Trump, who had opposed the resolution, tweeted that the UN would “be different” after his inauguration on January 20, 2017.

In response, a White House official said: “There is one US president at a time, and President Obama is that until January 20.”

Rare US criticism of Israel

The vote followed a flurry of negotiations involving Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Israeli Pime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama and US President-elect Donald Trump.

The resolution was initially due to be voted on Thursday afternoon, but Egypt abruptly put off the vote under pressure from US President-elect Trump.

Two Western officials revealed Thursday that President Obama had intended to abstain from the vote, a relatively rare step by the United States, which would more typically veto resolutions that criticise Israel’s policy of allowing settlements in occupied territories.

Leading up to the vote on Friday, a senior US official denied Israeli accusations that the Obama administration been involved in crafting or promoting the resolution. The official also said the United States had not communicated to any other council member how it intended to vote.

Netanyahu and Trump, meanwhile, had both called for the United States to veto the draft resolution.

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Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said the Republican president-elect had spoken with both Netanyahu and Egyptian President al-Sisi about the proposed Security Council action.

But Thursday night, the remaining four sponsors told Egypt that if Cairo did not clarify its position, then they reserved the right to “proceed to put it to vote ASAP”.

‘Cease all settlement activities’

The draft resolution would demand Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem” and said the establishment of settlements by Israel has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.

A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the United States, France, Russia, Britain or China to be adopted.

The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – areas Israel captured in a 1967 war. Most countries and the United Nations view Israeli West Bank settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace.

Israel disputes that settlements are illegal and says their final status should be determined in any future talks on Palestinian statehood. The last round of US-led peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians collapsed in 2014.