U.S.-Israel Ties Strained Over Draft UN Statement on Settlements

  • Senior official says U.S. effectively abandoning Israel
  • Draft said Israeli settlements have no ‘legal validity’

Strained U.S.-Israeli ties are fraying further at the end of the Obama administration after the U.S. declined to take a public stand against a delayed United Nations resolution this week criticizing Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.

A senior Israeli official, who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly, accused the U.S. of secretly drafting the resolution in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority. The person described the U.S. refusal to repudiate the measure as an abandonment of Israel that broke decades of policy.

A vote on the resolution, circulated by Egypt, may take place Friday afternoon in New York, according to the newspaper Haaretz. It wasn’t immediately clear if the text had changed since Thursday.

A draft circulated ahead of Thursday’s planned vote would have declared all Israeli settlements illegal under international law and demanded that the country cease construction in the West Bank and other territories captured in the 1967 Middle East war. The U.S. has vetoed similar resolutions in previous years and the Obama administration has generally shied away from branding the Israeli settlements as illegal, preferring to call them “illegitimate.”

An Obama administration official who asked not to be identified discussing the issue rejected the notion that the U.S. helped draft or promote the resolution. The official said the U.S. has not told other UN members how it would vote on measure, which he said is being promoted by other Security Council members.

Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the UN, said before the delay was announced that the Obama administration had kept his country’s leadership in suspense.

“I don’t know at five minutes to midnight whether we’ll get another veto this time,” said Gold, who returned to his research institute, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, in October after stepping down as director-general of the Foreign Ministry.

The draft text circulated by Egyptian diplomats said the establishment of settlements has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle” to a “just, lasting and comprehensive peace” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called for the U.S. to reject the proposal. “It’s bad for Israel; it’s bad for the United States; and it’s bad for peace,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

President-elect Donald Trump issued a statement on Thursday calling for the U.S to exercise its veto on the proposed resolution, saying it "puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis."

The incoming U.S. president has taken a very public stance on U.S.-Israel ties, vowing to move the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move Palestinians say would effectively end the peace process. He’s also nominated David Friedman, a staunch supporter of settlements who opposes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, as his ambassador to Israel.

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