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U.S. Abstains as U.N. Security Council Votes to Condemn Israeli Settlements

UNITED NATIONS — Defying extraordinary pressure from President-elect Donald J. Trump and furious lobbying by Israel, the Obama administration on Friday allowed the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement construction.

The administration’s decision not to veto the measure broke a longstanding American policy of serving as Israel’s sturdiest diplomatic shield at the United Nations.

While the measure will have no practical impact on the ground, it was regarded as a major rebuff to Israel that could increase its isolation over the paralyzed peace process with the Palestinians, who have sought to establish their own state on territory held by Israel.

Applause broke out in the 15-member Security Council’s chambers following the vote on the measure, which passed 14-0, with the United States abstaining.

The vote came a day after Mr. Trump personally intervened to keep the measure, proposed by Egypt, from coming up for a vote on Thursday, as scheduled. Mr. Trump’s aides said he had spoken to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Both men also spoke to the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Egypt postponed the vote.

But in a show of mounting frustration, four other countries on the Security Council — Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela — all of them relatively powerless temporary members with rotating two-year seats, snatched the resolution away from Egypt and put it up for a vote Friday afternoon.

OPEN Document

Document: U.N. Security Council Draft Resolution on the Middle East Peace Process

The departing Obama administration has been highly critical of Israel’s settlement building, describing it as an impediment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Trump has made clear that he will take a far more sympathetic approach to Israel when his administration assumes office in a month.


Construction at an Israeli settlement in the West Bank in 2015.

Tomas Munita for The New York Times

Mr. Trump’s comments on the issue amounted to his most direct intervention on United States foreign policy during his transition to power.

The United States ambassador, Samantha Power, portrayed the abstention as consistent with the American disapproval of settlement-building, but she also criticized countries at the United Nations for treating Israel unfairly. She said the United States remained committed to its “steadfast support” for Israel and reminded the council that Israel received an enormous amount of American military aid.

Ms. Power said the United States chose not to veto the resolution, as it had done to a similar measure under Mr. Obama in 2011, because settlement building had accelerated so much that it had put the two-state solution in jeopardy, and because the peace process had gone nowhere.

“Today the Security Council reaffirmed its established consensus that settlements have no legal validity,” she said. “The United States has been sending a message that settlements must stop privately and publicly for nearly five decades.”

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, who had urged the American delegation to block the measure, expressed his disappointment in a statement that looked forward to a change in policy under Mr. Trump.

“It was to be expected that Israel’s greatest ally would act in accordance with the values that we share and that they would have vetoed this disgraceful resolution,” he said.

The resolution condemned Israeli housing construction in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank as a “flagrant violation under international law” that was “dangerously imperiling the viability” of a future peace settlement establishing a Palestinian state.

The resolution also includes a nod to Israel and its backers by condemning “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction.” That language is diplomatic scolding aimed at Palestinian leaders, whom Israel accuses of encouraging attacks on Israeli civilians.

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