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February 16, 2011

Negotiations Continue at UN on Palestinian Settlements Resolution

Arab ambassadors continued their closed-door discussions Thursday on whether to push for a vote on Friday on a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution that condemns Jewish settlement construction on Palestinian lands and calls for it to stop. The United States has opposed bringing the resolution to the Security Council and questions remain as to whether it will use its veto to kill the measure.

The Obama administration has been working hard to avoid having to veto or abstain from the proposed resolution, which has broad support within the council.  A veto would upset the Palestinians, while an abstention would anger Israel.  But in either case, the vote could complicate efforts to resume direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice called Arab ambassadors to her office earlier this week to offer a compromise that would replace the resolution with a non-binding statement from the council, rejecting settlement activity, but stopping short of calling for it to stop.  The deal also included possible U.S. support for a Security Council visit to the region.  But Arab ambassadors rejected the offer, as one put it, as "too little, too late."

In Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke by telephone on Thursday about the Palestinian-backed U.N. resolution.

On Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States is focused on doing what is best to advance negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict. "We have said consistently over many years said that the United Nations Security Council and resolutions that would come before the Security Council are not the right vehicle to advance that goal.  So we are working with our partners in the Security Council, with our friends in the region to find a consensus way forward that is consistent with our overall approach," she said.

The Obama administration is under domestic political pressure to block the resolution.  The head of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, issued a statement saying the United States should not be "bullied" into abandoning its ally, added that criticizing Israel at the United Nations "isn’t leadership, it’s unacceptable."

U.N. diplomats say Security Council members are continuing to work with the parties to see whether a deal can be reached that is good for all sides.