News / Middle East

UN Security Council Divided Over Israeli Settlements

European powers on the U.N. Security Council led condemnations on Tuesday against expanded Israeli settlement building and attacks by settlers on Palestinians.  Their calls were echoed by nearly every other council member, except the United States, amplifying the division among members of the U.N.’s most powerful body on the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  From the United Nations,

In February, the United States was the only Security Council member to oppose a resolution condemning the building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, blocking the measure with its veto.  On Tuesday, the U.S. was virtually the only council member to remain silent after a senior U.N. official warned the council that settler violence and settlement construction have been on the rise and are hurting the chance of a Mideast peace.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who heads the council this month, told reporters that no consensus statement was possible from the 15-member council because of the objections of one delegation. “Because there is one delegation which would not want to hear anything about it, any kind of a statement, which believes that somehow things will sort of settle themselves somehow miraculously out of their own,” Churkin said.

Churkin suggested that perhaps Israel occasionally needs prodding from the Security Council to act, and he noted that the stream of statements from ambassadors representing regional groups on the Security Council was a new development.

The Europeans led the call for Israel’s government to cease construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.  Britain, France, Portugal and Germany also condemned the “disturbing escalation of violence by settlers,” including the burning of mosques.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, who read the European statement, said the package of measures announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response to settler violence goes in the right direction and that they anticipate its implementation.

India, Brazil and South Africa echoed the European concerns as did ambassadors speaking on behalf of the group of more than 120 states known as the Non-Aligned Movement.

Lebanon’s Ambassador Nawaf Salam spoke in his capacity as the Chairman of the Arab group.

“We are profoundly disappointed, frustrated by the inaction of the Security Council on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.  However you look at it - whether at settlement activity, the demolition of houses, the evictions - you have clear violations of international law, international humanitarian law, human rights law, the Charter of the United Nations, Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions, opinion of the International Court of Justice,” Salam said.

Salam said the Security Council should live up to its responsibilities and condemn these activities.

The United States has not declared Israeli settlement building illegal, but it calls it "illegitimate."  Washington opposes efforts to legalize settlement outposts, which it considers unhelpful to the peace process.

Israel’s ambassador did not speak to reporters after the meeting.  But in a statement, his spokeswoman criticized the council for focusing on Israeli settlements when it should, in her opinion, be vocal on events in Syria, Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons and the activities of Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down 15 months ago over the issue of Israel’s settlement building.

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