Israel says it has evidence U.S. helped create UN resolution condemning settlements
White House vehemently denies the allegations
Doubling down on its public break with the Obama administration, a furious Israeli government said Tuesday it had received "ironclad" information from Arab sources that Washington actively helped craft last week's UN resolution declaring Israeli settlements illegal.
The allegations further poisoned the increasingly toxic atmosphere between Israel and the outgoing Obama administration in the wake of Friday's vote, and raised questions about whether the White House might take further action against Israeli settlements during Barack Obama's final weeks in office.
The Obama administration has vehemently denied Israel's allegations.
"We did not draft, advance, promote or even tell any other country how we would vote on this resolution in advance of the Egyptians putting it in blue last week," said White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.
The Obama administration has acknowledged that it considered the possibility of abstaining on a settlements resolution over the past year as various drafts were circulated by different countries. In announcing the abstention, UN Ambassador Samantha Power referred to continued Israeli settlement construction and a recent effort to retroactively legalize dozens of illegally built settlement outposts.
A White House official said the U.S. was approached repeatedly by countries urging it to let the resolution pass, yet only replied by saying the U.S. would feel forced to veto any resolution that didn't also criticize the Palestinians for inciting violence. The official wasn't authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity.
Although the U.S. has long opposed Israeli settlements on occupied lands, it has traditionally used its veto in the UN Security Council to protect its ally from international censure.
But in a change of policy, it abstained from Friday's vote, allowing the resolution to pass by a 14-0 margin.
With the U.S. expected to participate in an international peace conference in France next month and Secretary of State John Kerry planning a final policy speech, the Palestinians said they were hoping to capitalize on the momentum from the Security Council vote.
"The decision lays the foundation for any future serious negotiation ... and it paves the way for the international peace conference slated to be held in Paris next month," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said early Tuesday in his first public remarks since the vote.
"We hope this conference comes up with a mechanism and timetable to end the occupation," Abbas told a meeting of his Fatah party. "The [resolution] proves that the world rejects the settlements, as they are illegal."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has long had a cool relationship with Obama, has called the resolution "shameful" and accused the U.S. of playing a leading role in its passage.
On Tuesday, his spokesman went even further.
"We have ironclad information that emanates from sources in the Arab world and that shows the Obama administration helped craft this resolution and pushed hard for its eventual passage," David Keyes said.
"We're not just going to be a punching bag and go quietly into the night as the Obama administration helps push such a grave resolution," he said.
He did not identify the Arab sources or say how Israel obtained the information. Israel has close security ties with Egypt, an original sponsor of last week's resolution. Under heavy Israeli pressure, Egypt delayed the resolution last week before other council members presented it for a vote a day later. Egypt ended up voting in favour of the measure.
Settlement plans continuing
The Palestinians claim the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, as parts of their future state. Israel says settlements, along with other core issues like security, should be agreed upon in direct talks.
Despite the UN resolution condemning settlements, the Municipality of Jerusalem is set to approve thousands of new housing units in the eastern sector of the city this week. The Jerusalem District Zoning Committee is convening Wednesday to discuss approving fresh construction in that part of the city, the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom reported.
"We remain unfazed by the UN vote, or by any other entity that tries to dictate what we do in Jerusalem," Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Meir Turgeman, who heads the zoning committee, told the paper this week. "I hope the Israeli government and the new U.S. administration will support us, so we can make up for the lack [of construction] during the eight years of the Obama administration."