US abstains as UN Security Council votes to condemn Israeli settlements

UNITED NATIONS — Defying extraordinary pressure from President-elect Donald Trump and furious lobbying by Israel, the Obama administration Friday allowed the Security Council to adopt a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement construction.

The administration’s decision not to veto the measure reflected its growing frustration over Israeli settlements and broke a long-standing US policy of serving as Israel’s sturdiest diplomatic shield at the United Nations.

While the measure 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 broke out in the 15-member Security Council’s chambers after the vote on the measure, which passed 14-0, with the United States abstaining. 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 told them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who had scrambled in recent days to stop the measure from coming to a vote, released a blistering denunciation afterward:

“Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “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.'”

The vote came a day after Trump personally intervened to keep the measure, 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 postponed the vote.

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 afternoon.

The departing Obama administration has been highly critical of Israel’s settlement building, describing it as an impediment to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump has made it clear that he will take a far more sympathetic approach to Israel when his administration assumes office in a month.

Trump’s comments on the issue amounted to his most direct intervention on US foreign policy during his transition to power. Minutes after the Security Council vote was announced, Trump made his anger known in a Twitter posting: “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th.”

A number of advocacy groups for Israel also denounced the resolution, calling it a one-sided measure that would not help the peace process. Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said in a statement: “It is also disconcerting and unfortunate that the United States, Israel’s greatest ally, chose to abstain rather than veto this counterproductive text.”

The US ambassador, Samantha Power, portrayed the abstention as consistent with the US 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 US military aid.

Power said the United States 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 two-state solution in jeopardy and because the peace process had gone nowhere.

“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 rebuked Palestinian leaders for “too often” failing to condemn violence against Israeli civilians. But she also directed a portion of her remarks to Netanyahu, whose relations with the Obama administration have never been warm.

“One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution that would end the conflict,” she said, arguing that the settlements have undermined Israel’s security.

Israel’s ambassador, Danon, who had exhorted the US delegation to block the measure, expressed his anger in a statement that looked forward to a change in policy under Trump.

“It was to be expected that Israel’s greatest ally would act in accordance with the values that we share and that they would have vetoed this disgraceful resolution,” he said.

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.

The resolution also includes a nod to Israel and its backers by condemning “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement, and destruction.” That language is diplomatic scolding aimed at Palestinian leaders, whom Israel accuses of encouraging attacks on Israeli civilians.