U.N. condemns Israeli settlement as U.S. abstains

Security Council calls construction in Palestinian territory a violation of international law; U.S. breaks from past diplomatic practice of vetoing such resolutions

Photo Credit: CBS NEWS
Photo Credit: CBS NEWS

(CBS NEWS) – The UN Security Council passed a resolution 14-0 condemning the construction of Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. The resolution called continuing construction in the Palestinian territory a “flagrant violation” of international law, and it called on Israel to halt all settlement activities in order to salvage a two-state solution.

The U.S. abstained from the vote, in a departure from past U.S. diplomatic practice of vetoing such a resolution in support of Israel.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power defended the U.S. abstention, saying, “We would not have let this resolution pass if it hadn’t addressed counterproductive steps by the Palestinians.” And she added that the vote “does not in any way diminish the United States’ steadfast and unparalleled commitment to the security of Israel.”

But the U.S. abstention was the stunning culmination of years of icy relations between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And it put Mr. Obama in open conflict with President-elect Trump on a key foreign policy matter at a time when they’ve been promising a smooth transition.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon was deeply critical of the Obama administration in Tweets following the vote.

Danon also said he looked forward to the “new era” Mr. Trump would bring.

Mr. Trump also tweeted after the vote, promising change in January.

Congressional leadership also condemned the vote. House Speaker Paul Ryan called the vote “shameful.”

“Today’s vote is a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel,” he said in a statement. “Our unified Republican government will work to reverse the damage done by this administration, and rebuild our alliance with Israel.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, who will be the new Senate minority leader, says he has urged the administration to veto the resolution — “an abstention is not good enough,” he wrote in a statement Friday, and he accused the U.N. of “one-sidedness” and an “anti-Israel bias” on the settlements issue.

On Friday, an Israeli official said Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry “secretly cooked up with the Palestinians an extreme anti-Israeli resolution behind Israel’s back, which would be a tail wind for terror and boycotts and effectively make the Western Wall occupied Palestinian territory.” The official, who wasn’t authorized to be quoted by name, also praised Trump for heading off the resolution on Thursday.

Israel knew the U.S. was coordinating an “ambush” with the Palestinians, said another Israeli official, who similarly demanded anonymity.

A senior Obama administration official fired back, saying Egypt championed the resolution “from the start” and crediting “other Security Council members, not the United States,” for the renewed push. Friday’s resolution was sponsored by New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela.

The U.S., along with the Palestinians and nearly all of the international community, considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem obstacles to peace. Some 600,000 Israelis live in the two territories, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Mr. Trump has signaled he will be far more sympathetic to Israel. His campaign platform made no mention of the establishment of a Palestinian state, a core policy objective of Democratic and Republican presidents over the past two decades. He also has vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, potentially putting the U.S. at odds with the Palestinians and almost the entire remainder of the international community. Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, Jewish-American lawyer David Friedman, is a donor and vocal supporter of the settlements.

CBS News’ Julia Boccagno contributed to this report

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