United Nations (CNN) -- The United States vetoed Friday a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have declared Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said that while the United States agrees about "the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, we think it unwise for this council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians."
The veto is the first to be used under the Obama administration.
Ambassador Riyad Mansour, the permanent observer of Palestine to the United Nations, objected to the veto in a statement following the vote.
"The proper message that should have been sent by the Security Council to Israel, the occupying power, is that its contempt of international law and the international community will no longer be tolerated," he said. "We fear, however, that the message sent today may be one that only encourages further Israeli intransigence and impunity. This must be remedied."
Rice noted conversations in recent days between U.S. and Palestinian leaders in an attempt to compromise on the issue of Israeli settlements.
"In recent days, we offered a constructive alternative course that we believe would have allowed the council to act unanimously to support the pursuit of peace," she said. "We regret that this effort was not successful and thus is no longer viable."
Israel praised the veto, saying in a statement that the decision "contributes to the resumption of the diplomatic process and (it) regrets that the other Security Council members have refrained from making the same contribution."
U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the resolution and speak about alternatives to a Security Council vote, according to a diplomatic source. Among the options that had been floated, American and Palestinian officials said, was the issuance of a Security Council presidential statement, which is weaker than an actual resolution.
Obama told Abbas that if he didn't withdraw the resolution, it would put the United States in an awkward position and that U.S.-Palestinian relations would suffer as a result, the source said.
"Well, there were attempts at persuasion, (but) let me put it politely: We are even more persuaded by the rights of the Palestinian people," said Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian legislator and Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member. "We are more committed to international law and to the requirements of peace, and all these require that settlement activity should stop and that the Security Council should take a resolution condemning all settlement activities as being illegal and as being in direct contradiction of the requirement of peace."
The PLO met Friday and decided to move forward with the vote, the diplomatic source said, adding that Abbas felt that at a time when so many leaders are either being toppled or facing massive protests, it would make him look weak if he opted for an alternative course.
The Palestinian territories have not had the kinds of demonstrations seen in many Arab countries, but the Fatah leaders of the Palestinian Authority have been under criticism since Al-Jazeera published secret papers claiming to reveal that Palestinian officials were prepared to make wide-ranging concessions in negotiations with Israel.
The Obama administration has been critical of Israeli settlement construction but has not gone as far as to call it "illegal."
Rice reaffirmed the U.S. stance Friday, saying after the vote that Friday's veto should not be "misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity."
"On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity," she said.
Since the breakdown of American-brokered talks with Israel in September over the issue of settlements, the Palestinian Authority has been pursuing a policy aimed at unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state by September based on borders from 1967 and in recent months has won recognition from a number of South American countries.
The United States and Israel oppose the unilateral efforts, insisting that all issues in the conflict must be dealt with through direct negotiations.
Following the vote, Israel joined the United States in once again calling for direct negotiations.
"Only thus, and not through seizing the Security Council, will it be possible to advance the peace process so as to benefit both parties and to serve the cause of peace and security throughout the region," said a statement released by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee also praised the veto, saying the action prevented "another one-sided, anti-Israeli resolution from being enacted by the U.N. Security Council."
Thanks for taking the time to respond to this discussion. I was quite intrigued by some of the issues raised by your commentary.
1) You stated that the veto was more in the interest of the Palestinians than the Israelis. In which way? I note that in the previous post Waleed, rightly or wrongly, sees the veto as decreasing the size of the Palestinian state and ultimately making a two-state solution less likely.
2) I agree that many Israelis believe, when they scan the international news headlines, that 'everyone is against us.' I think we would both point to the role of historical anti-Semitism in conditioning such a response. At the same, I am sure you would agree that there are areas in which Israeli policies and/or their results merit criticism. How do you think the defensive, and very unproductive, response to criticism shown by Israels can be overcome? Do you see any strategies that would promote a greater readiness to engage with criticism and with the agencies or governments that generate such critiques?
3)The question of the the practical effect is, I think, closely tied to perspective. From a political point of view, the effect may seem minimal--houses can go up, houses can be torn down or deserted. However, from the social point of view, the effect is quite severe. Let's say hypothetically that this veto means the loss of 300-500 houses. In social terms that means 300-500 families who lose their homes and/or access to their fields. It means the sundering of identity for individuals and communities. It means internal displacement, and the rupture of individuals to meaningful institutions like schools, mosques, community centres and government services.
Looking forward to your response.
Thanks Basil for posting this.
Why the veto matters: (1) It is anti-democratic, (2) its perpetuates the status quo (ie settlement expansion) and (3) increases the likelihood of violent conflict
What a deeply disturbing action by the United States. 120 members of the United Nations co-sponsored this resolution. 14 of the 15 members of the UN Security Council voted in favour of the resolution and yet the United States of America vetoed this. This is a disgraceful abuse of power by the US and will lead to an exacerbation of the conflict and further loss of life. In the very least the United States could have abstained. To veto such a resolution only highlights the anti-democratic nature of the veto (given there is no two-thirds majority override or even 75% or 93.33% override [ie 14:1 vote]) and the inability of the US to see that Israel's getting facts on the ground only serves expansionist aims of a Greater Israel. A Greater Israel only undermines the security of citizens in the region rather than improve security.
If the year was 1993 or 2003 there might have been hope for a two state solution with minimal conflict. But the year is 2011. For 43 years the international community has called on Israel to leave territories conquered during the 1967 war (albeit with the United States draggings its heels). Palestinians have tried armed resistance to bring about change; and have tried nonviolent resistance. If things don't change soon people will grow impatient and there will be a return to violent resistance.
Despite this settler numbers continue to expand. There are more than half a million Israeli settlers within Palestinian territory. Israeli officials still publicly at least live in a parrallel universe, where they say that the UN Security Council should be calling "upon the Palestinian leadership, in a clear and resolute voice, to immediately return to the negotiating table.” (UN News Center, 18 February 2011)) Instead what we need is for Israel to commit to the principle of a two state solution as agreed in 1993 and work towards such a plan. Colonising the West Bank undermines the two state solution and the veto by the United States is a sign of appeasement which sends the wrong message to Israel and the international community.
Why does the PLO publicly refuse to negotiate at present?
The reasons for Palestinians refusing to publicly negotiate at present is their concern that if they are seen publicly negotiating this sends out an international image of normalcy and things are being worked out. Whereas what the Palestinians are trying to highlight is by not negotiating (publicly at least) is that things are not being worked out. The Israeli practice of settlement expansion continues regardless of negotiations as it is official Israeli policy. In contrast there is no officially sanctioned Palestinian violent resistance in the West Bank and has not been for years (despite the Israel authorities using violence to take further land). So Israel cannot use violence from Palestinians in the West Bank as an excuse.
See also: Josh Ruebner, "The top-ten reasons for skepticism of Israeli-Palestinian talks", Mondoweiss, 26 August 2010.
I have to say that I think its a bit of a joke.....
Israel had 9 months of stopping to build settlements - no it was not a total bad but I bad that was wide spread and enforced...it still took the PA 8 of the 9 months to come to teh table. The PA has been talking to Israel while settlements were build during Rabin, Prez, Bibi, Barak Olmert...what is diffrent now that there is a new conditions? It is just a stalling tactic if you ask me.
Not that these things are in any way equal in my mind but Israel did not demand the PA take apart the terrorist infrastructure, stop incitement on PA TV, change the PA inciteful school books or accept two states with An Arab and a Jewish state.....
Remember all the time that there is negotiations - there will be no settlement to any issues. The sooner a negotiation is reached the sooner this will all end. The PA should stop stalling and look for excuses and get back to negotiating...
Heres where we differ I cannot compare shooting rockets at civilians to building house no matter where they are. The PA named a major square after a female suicide bomber.... Hate can stiull be seen everywhere, on PA official channels and websites. Should that be stopped as well? Terrorist who try to target Israel still roam free.... Is all this ok? No, it is not.
"You mean our lives are cheaper than yours." - houses are not lives - if they were the IDF killed thousands of their own people taking dow illeagle settlements and evacuating Gaza of Jews.
Stalling in the negotiation will not benefit anyone - just an excuse to not come to an agreement.
The PLO tactical choice of engagement or disengagement in negotiations is not the real question
For the past 17 years there have been negotiations. Israel has proved that one can still build settlements and build a separation barrier to prejudge future solutions. Whether or not the PLO has made the correct tactical decision to use the settlement issue as a precondition for negotiation is another question. In terms of who benefits from not renewing negotiations the answer is stalling (from either side) perpetuates the status quo, ie settlement expansion, and the birth of children on foreign land. All these facts will haunt future Israeli citizens for generations to come. The time to end settlement expansion regardless of your political persuasion is now. Lest you jeopardise the safety of your children in the future.
"he thing is no one really thinks Israel will be giving up the large settlement blocks while everyone is convinced they will have to give up the small settlements - so what is the big deal. This is a reason not to talk?
"Whether or not the PLO has made the correct tactical decision to use the settlement issue as a precondition for negotiation is another question" - this is th point ..what happened that all of teh sudden u can not talk while settlements are being built? Does not make any sense at all.
I dont see settlements as being so harmful because of the reasons mentioned above.
Settlements can always be dismantled. Hate and indoctrination into an anti-Israel, anti-semantic mentality will destroy any chance of peaceful co-existence. That is the true enemy here.
Certainly 43 years of military occupation is not an environment that is conducive for Palestinians to feel warmth and love for the State of Israel. It is thanks to elements within Israeli civil society and person's of courage and conscience within the Jewish community that through their personal visits (and through public statements) that have continued to encourage Palestinians that not all Israelis or Jews are against them. The question we need to ask is how can we show solidarity to both communities? On the one hand how do our actions respond to institutions that perpetuate occupation or to institutions that feed into anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli stereotypes? For those opposed to boycott there is a strong argument that this will feed into the Jewish persecution narrative. However, whilst this argument does reflect reality, the question is the daily reality of Palestinians going to change unless the State of Israel feels a new type of economic, cultural and social pressure it has successfully avoided for decades of occupation. If the time is not now then it is awfully close that the State should feel justified criticism and pressure given the perpetuation of occupation and the generational solidification of this policy by further building and placing facts on the ground.
Certain settlements in the West Bank will only be dismantled through intense violence
The Jewish nationalist narrative has quite clearly demonstrated that settlements cannot be easily dismantled. This was Jabotinsky's point. The evidence of the Suez and Gaza was child's play in comparison to the zealotry of settlements in Hebron or Ariel or further afield. The assassination of Rabin shows to what lengths opponents to settlements being dismantled will face. There is real concern of mutiny within the ranks if certain settlements are removed. Sadly, the future does not look bright, a consequence that for too long settlement expansion has been encouraged and supported by the State (and the international community has placed little pressure on the military occupying force to honour international commitments to withdraw). Settlement expansion has created a false sense of entitlement to the land beyond the 1949 armistice lines. The pretext of settlement expansion in the name of security has created a situation where sadly violence is the most likely outcome and further needless death for Israelis and Palestinians. Sorry to be bleak - but as much as I am an optimist the facts on the ground speak louder than words. From an optimistic point of view, yes, peace will come it just won't happen in the short-term given the inability of leaders and people to stay focused on nonviolent solutions, following international law and educating communities of the shared tragic story of Jewish-Israelis, Palestinian-Israelis and Palestinians.
I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that somewhere I read that the building freeze did not in fact halt construction. New construction was still allowed on the basis of permits that might have been granted before the freeze came into effect. I am quite sure that on the ground, this freeze did not look like much of freeze to those who witnessed the construction.
While I appreciate your concerns about terror infrastructure, television incitement and propagandistic shoolbooks, it seems to me that they are not formally linked to the issue of settlements. I think it would be unwise to link them, since the PA could also point to practises it considers objectionable (the terror of homes being destroyed, the anti-Arab political discourses by Israel Beitanu among others, the inequal funding of Arab schools and inequal access to public schooling, etc.) Linking negotations to new sets of demands would be the fast route to making sure no negotiations occur.