Palestinians Press UN Vote on Settlement Building That May Force U.S. Veto

The Palestinian Authority is pressing for a vote by Jan. 19 in the United Nations Security Council on a resolution demanding a halt to Israeli settlement construction, an action that may force the Obama administration to cast its first UN veto.

“This is high time for us to dig our heels in and say to Israel that you have to budge, that you are not going to get away with continuing violations of international law,” Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said in an interview late yesterday. The settlements “in additional to being illegal, are an obstacle to peace. We want to remove that obstacle.”

Mansour spoke after joining a delegation of Arab envoys who met with representatives of eight Security Council member governments, including India, Brazil, South Africa and Nigeria. India’s Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said after the closed meeting that no opposition to the draft resolution was expressed.

Support from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia is also likely, according to diplomats. That would give the Palestinians 14 votes for adoption, isolate the U.S. in opposition and may force the Obama administration to cast its first Security Council veto. Mansour said Jan. 19 was chosen because the 15-member council is scheduled to hold a debate on the Middle East conflict on that day.

The Palestinians “are likely to get a great deal of support,” said Robert Danin, former aide to Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy for the Quartet, which is comprised of the U.S., the UN Nations, Russia and the European Union.

‘Difficult Call’

“It is going to be a difficult call for the Obama administration, which is not inclined to want to veto resolutions,” Danin said in an interview. “There will be language in there that the administration supports, yet at the same time such a move is not going to be viewed as helpful in getting the two parties talking.”

President Barack Obama offered Israel a package of incentives to halt settlements that included a pledge to block such proposed resolutions in the Security Council, and then abandoned attempts last month to broker a freeze on construction after Israel refused to halt building.

The U.S. mission to the UN referred questions on the issue to the Dec. 29 statement of State Department spokesmanMark Toner.

“Final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties and not by recourse to the UN Security Council, so we’ve consistently opposed any attempt to take these kinds of issues to the council, because we believe that these kinds of efforts don’t move us any closer to our goal, which is of two states living side by side in peace and security,” he said.

‘Major Obstacles’

Mansour said the U.S. was “not engaging” in negotiations on the draft resolution, which also condemns the continuation of settlement activity as illegal and a “major obstacle” to peace.

Mansour said he hasn’t spoken to U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice about the draft resolution

“You are probably going to see an effort by Susan Rice to water it down to the point where they might get an abstention,” David Gordon, Middle East analyst with the New York-based risk consultant Eurasia Group said in an interview. “But that might be a high bar.”

Gordon forecast a U.S. veto because of the domestic political factors Obama faced when he tried to increase the pressure on Israel to halt settlement activity.

“They have been burned twice,” Gordon said. “They are not going to go down this road again.”

Two-State Solution

Karean Peretz, spokeswoman for Israel’s mission to the UN, said in an e-mailed statement that a Palestinian move to the Security Council would “only move us further away from returning to the negotiating table and reaching a two-state solution.”

Danin said the effort likely would anger Israel, which wouldn’t heed the demand to halt settlements and might see the resolution as a precursor to a bid for Security Council endorsement of Palestinian statehood.

“They’ll see it as a shot across the bow to impose an agreement, though it will put pressure on them,” Danin said. “But this will not serve Palestinian interests.”

About 500,000 Jews have moved to the West Bank and Jerusalem since Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Middle East war. The UN says the settlements are illegal, and the International Committee of the Red Cross says they breach the Fourth Geneva Convention governing actions on occupied territory.

Israel says the settlements don’t fall under the convention because the territory wasn’t recognized as belonging to anyone before the 1967 war, in which Israel prevailed, and therefore isn’t occupied.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bill Varner at the United Nations at wvarner@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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