Egypt scuttles UN vote on Israeli settlements

Egyptian officials scrapped a plan to proceed with a United Nations Security Council vote condemning the construction of Israeli settlements, following pushback from Israeli officials and President-elect Trump.

“Egypt requested the vote’s delay to permit them to conduct an additional meeting of the Arab League’s foreign ministers to work on the resolution’s wording,” Haaretz reported, citing Western diplomats. But the vote might be postponed “indefinitely,” according to the report.

Israeli settlement construction drew condemnation from the State Department earlier this year, in addition to the rebukes of more customary critics, raising fears in Israel and among congressional Republicans that President Obama might not veto a resolution on the matter in the waning days of his presidency. President-elect Trump stated his opposition to the resolution, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was lobbying Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to drop the resolution.

“The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed,” Trump said in a statement. “As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also called on the Obama administration to veto it.

Trump’s statement might have had the greatest influence on the Egyptian decision, beyond Netanyahu’s lobbying or other American statements. “Diplomats in Tel Aviv speculating that Sisi didn’t cave because of Israel, but rather because he didn’t want to piss off [the] incoming president,” Economist correspondent Gregg Carlstrom tweeted.

Egypt is a temporary member of the UN Security Council, which is dominated by five permanent members — the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France — which have the authority to veto council resolutions. Obama used that authority to block a similar resolution condemning Israeli settlements in 2011, but his administration’s increasingly public frustration with the failure of talks between Israel and the Palestinians raised the possibility that he wouldn’t veto it this time around.

Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the appeal of a change in policy when asked about a potential resolution to be authored by French diplomats. “If it’s a biased and unfair and a resolution calculated to delegitimize Israel, we’ll oppose it,” he said at the Haim Saban Forum on December 4. “But it’s getting more complicated now because there is a building sense of what I’ve been saying to you today, which some people can shake their heads, say, well, it’s unfair.”

Kerry emphasized that the Israeli settlements in disputed territory are not the cause of violence, but he argued that were nonetheless a “barrier” to an ultimate peace that was being tolerated by the Israeli government. “I’ll tell you why I know that: because the left in Israel is telling everybody they are a barrier to peace, and the right that supports it openly supports it because they don’t want peace,” Kerry said.

An abstention at the UN would have represented a strong break, nonetheless, from standing U.S. policy and congressional Democrats and Republicans, as Obama’s allies made clear Thursday.

“The draft United Nations resolution directly contradicts the Senate resolution I authored – and passed unanimously last year – condemning Palestinian terrorism and calling on all parties to return to the negotiating table immediately and without preconditions,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “Direct discussions remain the best avenue to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

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