The Obama administration said Tuesday it is actively discouraging an Arab-sponsored move to have Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank condemned and declared illegal by the U.N. Security Council. Such a resolution could be introduced in the council this week.
Officials here are not saying outright that the United States would veto a resolution on settlements.
But they insist that such a move is what one official termed "a bad idea" and that the Obama administration is urging Arab diplomats and Security Council members not to move forward on it.
The proposed resolution, backed by the Palestinians and Arab League, reflects frustration over the stalemate in U.S.-led efforts to get Israel and the Palestinians back into direct negotiations on settling the Middle East conflict.
U.S. officials argue that unilateral steps - those taken without Israel’s consent - such as a settlement resolution or recognition of Palestinian statehood only make peace efforts more difficult.
At a news briefing Tuesday, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the "best path forward" is to get the parties to negotiate a framework agreement that resolves the final-status issues of the peace process once and for all.
"We continue to be in conversation with a range of countries on this issue," said P.J. Crowley. "Our view hasn’t changed. We’ve made that clear in our discussions with the Palestinians and others. We do not think that New York or the U.N. Security Council is the right forum for this issue. And we’ll continue to make that case."
The United States has also deemed unhelpful the recent recognition of Palestinian statehood by a string of Latin American countries, including Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador.
The Obama administration was able to re-start direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks last September after two-year lapse. But the process broke down after a few weeks with Israel refusing to extend a ten-month moratorium on most settlement activity.
Palestinians contend that continued settlement-building is rapidly making a viable state for them impossible.
The United States in recent years has refrained from calling the settlements illegal.
But President Obama , in a key policy speech in Cairo in 2009, said the United States "does not accept the legitimacy" of continued settlements, the construction of which he said violates previous agreements, undermines peace efforts, and should stop.
In another development, the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington raised the Palestinian flag for the first time in a ceremony at its downtown office building Tuesday.
State Department Spokesman Crowley said the United States had authorized the action several months ago and it did not change the status of the sub-ambassadorial mission.
The action drew criticism from the new Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
In a written statement, she called it part of a Palestinian scheme to manipulate international acceptance of statehood while refusing to negotiate with Israel or accept its existence as a democratic Jewish state.