Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday turned down a U.S. proposal aimed at persuading the Palestinians into dropping support for a UN Security Council vote against Israeli settlements. The resolution, which will be voted on Friday afternoon, condemns Israeli settlement activity as “illegal” and demands that it “immediately and completely” cease all settlement activity “in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including east Jerusalem.”
Instead of putting the resolution to vote, the Obama administration proposed that the UN Security Council presidency issue a non-binding statement declaring that the body “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process.” The White House also backed a Russian initiative to accelerate the peace process and agreed to support tougher language by the Quartet concerning the future borders of a Palestinian state.
The leaders of Israel, the U.S., and the Palestinian Authority met in September 2010 for direct peace negotiations.
The proposed non-binding resolution, although rejected by the Palestinians, represents a shift from the long-held U.S. view that the Security Council is not the proper forum to address Israeli settlements or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For that reason, the U.S. has a longstanding tradition of vetoing anti-Israel resolutions that come through the Council. The White House has yet to announce whether or not the U.S. will invoke its veto power in today’s vote.
President Obama adopted a tough stance on Israeli settlements from the beginning of his presidency; he was the first U.S. president to demand that Israel freeze all settlement activity, even construction to accommodate natural growth. That stance empowered Abbas to end September 2010’s direct peace negotiations until all settlement activity was halted and bring today’s resolution against settlements to the UN – a first for any Palestinian leader.
Failing to veto the anti-settlement resolution today would be a grave mistake. It would only further empower the Palestinians’ unyielding position, as well as deepen the rift that currently exists between the White House and Israel – a surefire end to Obama’s aspirations to finalize a two-state solution plan during his presidency.