The decision not to veto the resolution that condemns Israeli settlement construction broke U.S. tradition of serving as Israel’s diplomatic shield.
UNITED NATIONS — Defying pressure from President-elect Donald Trump and lobbying by Israel, the Obama administration on Friday allowed the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement construction.
The administration’s decision not to veto the measure reflected its accumulated frustration over Israeli settlements. The U.S. abstention on the vote also broke a long-standing policy of shielding Israel from action at the United Nations that described the settlements as illegal.
While the resolution is not expected to have any practical impact, it is regarded as a major rebuff to Israel, one that could increase its isolation over the paralyzed peace process with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors, who have sought to establish their own state on territory held by Israel.
Applause erupted in the 15-member Security Council’s chambers after the vote on the measure, which passed 14-0, with the U.S. ambassador, Samantha Power, raising her hand as the lone abstention.
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Israel’s ambassador, Danny Danon, denounced the measure, and castigated the council members who had approved it. “Would you ban the French from building in Paris?” he asked.
The resolution describes settlement building as a “major obstacle” to peace and demands Israel stop the construction, which most of the world regards as illegal.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had scrambled in recent days to stop the measure from coming to a vote, issued a denunciation. “Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the U.N. and will not abide by its terms,” he said. “At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half a million people in Syria, it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel, and calls the Western Wall ‘occupied territory.’ ”
He immediately retaliated against two of the countries that sponsored the resolution. He ordered Israel’s ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal to return home for consultations, canceled a planned visit to Israel next month by Senegal’s foreign minister and cut off all aid programs to Senegal.
The vote came a day after Trump intervened to keep the measure, originally proposed by Egypt, from coming up for a vote Thursday, as scheduled. Trump’s aides said he had spoken to Netanyahu. Both men also spoke to the Egyptian president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Egypt had postponed the vote under what its U.N. ambassador called intense pressure.
But in a show of mounting exasperation, four other countries on the Security Council — Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela — all of them relatively powerless temporary members with rotating two-year seats, snatched the resolution away from Egypt and put it up for a vote Friday.
The Obama administration has criticized Israel’s settlement building, describing it as an impediment to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has long been the official U.S. position, regardless of the party in power.
Trump, who had urged the administration to veto the resolution, has made clear he will take a far more sympathetic approach to Israel when his administration assumes office Jan. 20. Minutes after the Security Council vote was announced, Trump said in a Twitter post: “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.”
Power, the U.S. ambassador, portrayed the abstention as consistent with U.S. disapproval of settlement-building, but she also criticized countries at the United Nations for treating Israel unfairly. She said the United States remained committed to its “steadfast support” for Israel and reminded the council that Israel received an enormous amount of U.S. military aid.
Power said the U.S. chose not to veto the resolution, as it had done to a similar measure under Obama in 2011, because settlement building had accelerated so much that it had put the stalled two-state solution in jeopardy. “Today the Security Council reaffirmed its established consensus that settlements have no legal validity,” she said. “The United States has been sending a message, that settlements must stop, privately and publicly for nearly five decades.”
She also rebuked Palestinian leaders for “too often” failing to condemn violence against Israeli civilians. But she criticized Netanyahu as well. “One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution that would end the conflict,” she said.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, welcomed the resolution but said, “In reality, today’s action may be too little too late.”
The resolution condemned Israeli housing construction in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank as a “flagrant violation under international law” that was “dangerously imperiling the viability” of a future peace settlement establishing a Palestinian state.”