Key UN vote on Israeli settlements delayed


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WASHINGTON — Egypt is delaying a showdown vote at the UN Security Council on a resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity after pressure from the Israelis, a Western official said Thursday.

The resolution had drawm condemnations from president-elect Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Trump’s election has brought the fraught Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the fore in recent days, with his appointment of an ambassador designate to Israel who supports Israeli settlement construction and his call for the US Embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a highly sensitive issue designated for final peace talks since Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital as well.

The Egyptians, who sponsored the resolution, told the Security Council they want to postpone the vote — which had been set for 3 p.m. — until after an Arab League meeting this afternoon to review the text.

A draft of the resolution calls on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

Egypt might have pulled back the resolution because of the opposition Trump and Netanyahu, said Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and an Egypt expert.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been “trying to advance talks between Israelis and Palestinians for a year now,” Trager said. “Given Trump’s reaction, given Netanyahu’s reaction, he must have realized this resolution would not advance the peace process.”

Trump said in a statement that the United States should veto the resolution if it is brought to a vote.

“As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations,” Trump said. “This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.”

Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller said that the transition team gave the White House a heads up before it sent the statement out this morning about the Security Council vote.

The US was debating whether to abstain or vote yes, according to a senior US official. The White House was not considering a veto, the US official said, but if the resolution is amended US officials will need to review it before deciding.

Secretary of State John Kerry scrapped plans to deliver a speech before the vote laying out the US vision for peace in the region.

Israel has been intensely lobbying the US since early Thursday morning to cast a veto, as it did in 2011, the last time a draft resolution regarding West Bank settlements was put forward.

Netanyahu said, “I hope the US won’t abandon this policy; I hope it will abide by the principles set by President Obama himself in his speech in the UN in 2011: That peace will come not through UN resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties.” It was the only Security Council veto of Obama’s time in office.

The Israeli mission to the UN said that the delay by the Egyptians “is an important step however we realize that this issue is not yet resolved. We are continuing our diplomatic efforts on all fronts to ensure that this disgraceful resolution will not pass the Security Council.”

The resolution would have marked the biggest international step on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process since the 1993 Oslo Accords, which saw the beginning of direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO. It also is a dramatic departure from decades of US foreign policy, which has held that peace will come only through negotiations. But the peace process has stalled in recent years. The last negotiations, initiated by Kerry, collapsed in April 2014, with both sides blaming each other.

At the time of the US veto in 2011, US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the US “rejects in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” but that peace would not come through resolutions.

But increased settlement construction this year, coupled with strained relations between Obama and Netanyahu, could have prompted the US to abstain or vote yes.

America’s criticism of Israeli settlements has grown harsher in recent months, culminating in October, when State Department spokesman Mark Toner said settlements are “cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation that is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

The tone in official Washington might be set to change once Trump takes office. His ambassador designate to Israel, David Friedman, is a New York-based bankruptcy lawyer who has helped raised millions of dollars for a West Bank settlement.

Israeli officials are calling for a shift as well. Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, called on Trump to make good on his promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem at an embassy Hannukah party on Tuesday. Moving the diplomatic mission would be a “great step forward to peace,” and wouldn’t upset Arab nations, Dermer said.

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