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Israel intensifies battle with US over UN resolution on settlements

🕐 4 min read

JERUSALEM – The Israeli government stepped up its running battle with the Obama administration on Tuesday, saying it had proof that the United States had orchestrated a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning settlement activity.

“We have ironclad information that emanates from sources in the Arab world and that shows the Obama administration helped craft this resolution and pushed hard for its eventual passage,” David Keyes, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told reporters. “We’re not just going to be a punching bag and go quietly into the night.”

State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner denied that the administration had “precooked” the resolution. But the U.S. explanation did little to quell fears in Israel that another Security Council censure may be forthcoming, even though U.S. officials insisted that no more U.N. resolutions are expected.

Toner said the United States had abstained, allowing passage of the resolution, because it was “balanced” – it also condemns Palestinian incitement to violence and terrorism – and because there was growing concern that increased settlement activity was imperiling a two-state solution.

“This was a resolution that we could not in good conscience veto, because it condemns violence. It condemned incitement,” Toner said. “It reiterates what has long been the overwhelming consensus internationally [on settlements], and it calls for the parties to take constructive steps to advance a two-state solution on the ground. There was nothing in there that would prompt us to veto that kind of resolution.”

The Israeli allegation of U.S. collusion in the resolution appears to be linked to meetings Secretary of State John Kerry had in recent months with Palestinian and Egyptian diplomats and officials from resolution co-sponsor New Zealand, where Kerry stopped last month en route to Antarctica. State Department officials said no specific language was discussed.

“There is no truth to the notion that we discussed the text of any resolution or that we previewed any position we might take on a hypothetical resolution in those meetings,” said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to comment on the private meetings.

Amid acrid bitterness in Israel over what is seen as the United States’ failure to protect Israel in not using its veto, Kerry is returning to Washington, D.C., from vacation to give a speech Wednesday morning outlining his vision for resolving the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.

There will be an end-to-an-era undertone to his remarks. With less than a month left before President Barack Obama leaves office, President-elect Donald Trump has vowed that the U.S.-Israel relationship will be markedly different.

But there appeared to be little chance that the Israeli government would heed the “wake-up call” Toner said he hoped the U.N. resolution would sound for Israel and curtail settlement activity.

Israeli officials pressed ahead, preparing to approve construction permits Wednesday to build 600 new settler homes in East Jerusalem, an area of the city that became part of Israel after the 1967 war. Since Friday’s vote, Netanyahu has summoned diplomats from countries that voted for the resolution and recalled Israel’s ambassadors in New Zealand and Senegal, two of the four countries that sponsored the resolution. Some right-wing members of Netanyahu’s coalition have called on him to ramp up settlement construction and have said Israel should annex parts of the West Bank.

Meanwhile, new details started to emerge about the behind-the-scenes diplomatic scramble that preceded the resolution – approved by a vote of 14 to 0 – declaring that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have “no legal validity” and are a “flagrant violation under international law.” It calls the settlements an obstacle to achieving a two-state solution and peace with the Palestinians.

A diplomat from a Security Council nation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, largely backed up the Obama administration’s account that it played no role in bringing the resolution to a vote. It had been discussed among Security Council members for months, but the U.S. position was well known.

The United States never told anyone how it would vote, not even in a consultation room where the 15 members of the Security Council gathered before they filed in to vote, according to the diplomat. The U.S. officials in attendance said they were still in “consultations” over the resolution, the diplomat said.

In Israel, the newspaper Haaretz reported that Britain, not the United States, appears to have been the driving force behind the resolution after Egypt, which had initially sponsored the resolution, withdrew. It described Netanyahu being sharp and caustic in a phone call to New Zealand’s foreign minister, Murray McCully, calling the resolution “a declaration of war.” Haaretz said that Netanyahu vowed to recall Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand but that McCully rebuffed the threat.

The report said that after Egypt backed down, Palestinian and Arab Persian Gulf diplomats urged the four co-sponsoring nations to move on with the resolution anyway. The message was driven home by Britain, which had worked directly with the Palestinians on drafting the language.

A last-minute glitch came up when Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, proposed postponing the vote until after Christmas, according to an interview the deputy Russian ambassador to Israel gave on Israel Army Radio. This reportedly followed a phone call between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The other Security Council ambassadors refused to wait, however.

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