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US abstains as UN condemns Israeli settlements

The UN Security Council has passed a resolution demanding that Israel stop building settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories, after the US abstained in spite of ferocious criticism from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

The resolution was passed with 14 votes from the 15-member security council, hours after a senior Israeli official accused US President Barack Obama of working “behind Israel’s back” to cook up the resolution, in a broadside against the outgoing government of Israel’s closest ally. 

The verbal assault came a day after Egypt proposed and then withdrew a resolution calling on Israel to end the settlement activity. Mr Netanyahu’s government saw the initiative as a parting shot from Mr Obama’s administration after years of strained relations.

The US abstention sparked recriminations on Capitol Hill, where Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, and John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate armed services committee, said it was “shameful”.

Ahead of the vote, Washington had not said whether it would exercise its veto — as it has done repeatedly over decades to protect Israel from critical UN resolutions — or abstain to allow the resolution to pass. 

“President Obama and secretary [of state John] Kerry are behind this shameful move against Israel at the UN,” the senior Israeli official said ahead of the vote. “The US administration secretly cooked up with the Palestinians an extreme anti-Israeli resolution behind Israel’s back which would be a tailwind for terror and boycotts and effectively make the western wall occupied Palestinian territory”. 

The Jewish holy site at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City is considered Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory by the international community, but Israel considers all of Jerusalem its unified capital and annexed the city’s eastern half in 1980. 

President Obama and secretary [of state John] Kerry are behind this shameful move against Israel at the UN

“President Obama could declare his willingness to veto this resolution in an instant, but instead is pushing it,” the senior official said. “This an abandonment of Israel which breaks decades of US policy of protecting Israel at the UN and undermines the prospects of working with the next administration of advancing peace.” 

The remarks were made to the Financial Times by a senior Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity.

US officials are concerned about a draft law before the Israeli Knesset that would legalise settler outposts in the occupied West Bank. They regard it as one of several steps by the Netanyahu government, which includes several pro-settler ministers, that will make the creation of a viable Palestinian state more difficult. 

Donald Trump’s administration, which takes office on January 20, is expected to be much more lenient towards Israel on its building in illegal settlements, and the president-elect has promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which the Palestinians also consider their capital.

On Thursday, Mr Trump intervened on Israel’s behalf, urging the US to veto the Egyptian resolution and accusing the UN of “showing systematic bias” against the Jewish state. After Mr Trump’s intervention, the Egyptian government withdrew its resolution. 

Later on Thursday, Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian politician and MP, told journalists at an official dinner that statements by Mr Trump and David Friedman, his nominee as ambassador to Israel, represented “a green light to initiation of annexing territories, especially Area C”.

Area C is the Israeli-administered part of the West Bank that Mr Netanyahu’s far-right allies in government are urging him to annex.

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

Mr McCain joined Mr Ryan in calling the vote “another shameful chapter in the bizarre anti-Israel history of the United Nations”.

“The abstention of the United States has made us complicit in this outrageous attack, and marks a troubling departure from our nation’s long, bipartisan history of defending our ally Israel in the United Nations,” Mr McCain said. “This resolution will serve as yet another roadblock to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and embolden the enemies of Israel.”

Aipac, the powerful pro-Israel lobby group, said it was “deeply disturbed” by the failure of the Obama administration to veto the resolution, and thanked Mr Trump for his opposition to the measure.

“Unfortunately, the UNSC today irresponsibly adopted a ruinous resolution that can only make the goal of peace even more elusive,” Aipac said in a statement.

Israelis and Palestinians alike have criticised Mr Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, for doing little to advance the cause of peace. During his administration, the US signed off on a record $38bn, 10-year military aid package for Israel, but clashed openly with Mr Netanyahu over the settlements, the Iran nuclear deal, and other issues.

Twitter: @dimi

Via FT