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Old 12-23-2016, 01:58 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Post For first time, U.S. doesn't veto Security Council resolution condeming Israel
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — In a striking rupture with past practice, the United States allowed the U.N. Security Council on Friday to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as a "flagrant violation" of international law. In doing so, the outgoing Obama administration brushed aside Donald Trump's demands that the U.S. exercise its veto and provided a climax to years of icy relations with Israel's leadership.

The decision to abstain from the council's 14-0 vote is one of the biggest American rebukes of its longstanding ally in recent memory. And it could have significant ramifications for the Jewish state, potentially hindering Israel's negotiating position in future peace talks. Given the world's widespread opposition to settlements, the action will be almost impossible for anyone, including Trump, to reverse.

Nevertheless, Trump vowed via Twitter: "As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th."

The resolution said Israel's settlements in lands the Palestinians want to include in their future state have "no legal validity." It demanded a halt to such activities for the sake of "salvaging the two-state solution." Loud applause erupted in the council chamber after U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power permitted the resolution to pass.

Friday's condemnation, a day after Egypt suddenly postponed a scheduled showdown, capped days of frantic diplomacy in capitals around the world.

American officials indicated they would have been prepared to let the resolution pass, despite blocking such proposals for years. Israeli officials said they were aware of such plans and turned to Trump for support. The U.S. president-elect sent a tweet urging President Barack Obama to block the U.N. effort. Egypt then pulled its resolution, with U.S. officials citing fierce Israeli pressure as the reason. Israeli officials then accused Obama of colluding with the Palestinians in a "shameful move" against the Jewish state. Washington denied the charge.

Most of the world is opposed to Israel's construction of Jewish settlements in lands it seized in the 1967 Mideast War. The primary holdout at the U.N. has been the United States, which sees settlements as illegitimate but has traditionally used its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council to block such resolutions on the grounds that Israeli-Palestinian disputes should be addressed through negotiation.

Underscoring that unity, Friday's resolution was proposed by nations in four different parts of the world: Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela. It is the first resolution on settlements to pass in 36 years, Malaysia's U.N. Ambassador Ramlan Bin Ibrahim said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered several diplomatic steps in retaliation, recalling his nation's ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal for consultations and canceling a planned January visit to Israel by Senegal's foreign minister. He also ended Israeli aid programs to the African country.

"Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the U.N. and will not abide by its terms," Netanyahu's office said in a statement, blaming Obama for failing to "protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN" and even colluding with the country's detractors. "Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution."

By contrast, chief Palestinian negotiation Saeb Erekat hailed the result as a "victory for the justice of the Palestinian cause." He said Trump's choice was now between "international legitimacy" or siding with "settlers and extremists."

Explaining the U.S. vote, Power quoted a 1982 statement from then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan, which declared that Washington "will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements."

"That has been the policy of every administration, Republican and Democrat, since before President Reagan and all the way through to the present day," Power said.

"One would think that it would be a routine vote," Power said. But she acknowledged that, in reality, the vote was "not straightforward" because it occurred at the United Nations, a body that has singled out Israel for criticism for decades.

In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said the vote was guided by one principle: "To preserve the possibility of the two-state solution."

In some ways, the American abstention served as a direct reflection of the deep distrust between Obama and Netanyahu. It followed months of intensely secret deliberations in Washington, including what one official said was an unannounced meeting earlier this month between Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, and a spate of fresh Israeli settlement announcements that have wrought exasperation and anger from American officials.

Obama told aides he might abstain on the original Egyptian resolution in a late-night call Wednesday with Vice President Joe Biden, Kerry and other top aides, a White House official said. After Egypt backed down, Israeli officials and Trump's team both reached out to the administration, and Kerry spoke with Netanyahu. But when Obama saw the final draft Friday, the official said, he approved the abstention.

Trump has signaled he will be far more sympathetic to Israel's stances on the two territories, where some 600,000 Israelis live. 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, which would anger Palestinians and lack international support. Trump's pick for ambassador to Israel, Jewish-American lawyer David Friedman, is a donor and vocal supporter of the settlements.

The resolution is little different in tone or substance from Obama's view, with the exception of its language on the legality of settlements. Washington has long avoided calling the activity illegal, in part to maintain diplomatic wiggle room for a negotiated solution that would allow Israel to incorporate some of the larger settlement blocs.

While the resolution doesn't impose sanctions on Israel, it enshrines the world's disapproval of the settlements. A reversal would require a follow-up vote that avoids a veto from the U.S., Britain, China, France or Russia — a highly unlikely scenario given the current stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In Washington, Republicans were already threatening consequences. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who heads the Senate appropriations panel in charge of U.S. payments to the global body, said he would "form a bipartisan coalition to suspend or significantly reduce" such funding. He said countries receiving U.S. aid also could be penalized for backing the effort.

In a Hanukkah message Friday, Obama didn't mention the matter. He referenced Israel once, noting that Jews there and around the world would soon "gather to light their Hanukkah menorahs, display them proudly in the window and recall the miracles of both ancient times and the present day."
in other news, Trump discovers limits of Twitter
[Christian Science Monitor]
David Iaconangelo
Christian Science MonitorDecember 23, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump intervened at Israel's request to head off a United Nations' resolution demanding a halt to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, officials said Friday, out of Israeli concern that the Obama administration would let the measure pass.

The United States, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has made a habit of vetoing resolutions of the sort. This time, the Obama administration – which has been at odds with that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal – intended to abstain from voting on the Egypt-sponsored resolution, all but guaranteeing its passage, two Western officials told Reuters.

The resolution would have urged a halt to Israel’s settlement activities in occupied territories claimed by Palestinians and declared that existing settlements had “no legal validity,” according to the Associated Press.

Recommended: How much do you know about the Palestinians? Take our quiz

Israeli officials reached out to Trump after realizing that the Obama administration had made a decision to "ambush" Israel on the issue, one Israeli official told Reuters, calling it "a violation of a core commitment to protect Israel at the UN."

Mr. Trump spoke by phone with the president of Egypt, whose delegation abruptly postponed the vote earlier Friday.

Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi agreed on "the importance of giving a chance for the new American administration to deal in a comprehensive way with the different aspects of the Palestinian issue with the aim of achieving a comprehensive and a final resolution," according to an Egyptian statement.

Absent some other last-minute gesture by President Obama, the maneuvering may cap off a period of strained relations between the US and Israel, and inaugurate one of greater warmth – that may upend the two-state peace solution that has until recently been the bipartisan consensus in the US.

Trump's election has brought on “nothing short of euphoria” for Israeli conservatives, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in November.

"The right is convinced that anything is possible now," Shlomi Eldar, a columnist for Al Monitor Israeli Pulse, told the Monitor. "The two-state solution can be erased, there will be no problem building in the settlements – the Messiah has come."

Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a hardline supporter of the settlements, and the incoming president has also vowed to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in what could upset regional US allies like Saudi Arabia, as the Monitor reported this week.

Netanyahu himself has sometimes been caught between the Israeli far-right and the US, but has done little to pursue a two-state solution in recent years, as West Bank settlements continue to multiply. But Trump's presidency could actually put the Israeli prime minister in a new bind, according to Nathan Sachs, a fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

“So far, Netanyahu has played a two-level game: blaming Obama for the halt in settlement construction when talking to settlers, and blaming the settlers for the defunct [peace] negotiations when talking to the Americans,” Mr. Sachs told the Monitor earlier this week.

“I’m not sure that Netanyahu himself is interested in unfettered settlement expansion, and without international pressure to blame he will have to provide some answers to the question – what does he really want? What is his solution to the conflict? Right now, it doesn’t seem like he can provide those positive, long-term answers.”

Palestinian leaders did not immediately react to the diplomatic fracas.

"Despite the Israeli occupation,” Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in a Christmas greeting on Friday, according to the AP, "our presence in our homeland and the preservation of our cultural and national heritage are the most important form of resistance in the face of the darkness of a foreign colonialist occupying power."

This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.
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