UN Security Council approves motion demanding end to Israeli settlements

The Obama administration allowed the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution Friday demanding an end to Israeli settlements, defying pressure from U.S. president-elect Donald Trump as well as Israel and several U.S. senators who urged Washington to use its veto.

Israel and president-elect Trump denounce resolution passed with rare U.S. abstention

The resolution calling for an end to Israeli settlements was passed with a U.S. abstention. (Osamu Honda/Associated Press)

The Obama administration allowed the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution Friday demanding an end to Israeli settlements, defying pressure from U.S. president-elect Donald Trump as well as Israel and several U.S. senators who urged Washington to use its veto.

The resolution was put forward at the 15-member council for a vote on Friday by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal a day after Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and Trump.

Israel and Trump had called on the United States to veto the measure. It was adopted with 14 votes in favour, to a round of applause.

It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years. The U.S. decision to abstain was a relatively rare step by Washington, which usually shields Israel from such action.

"The Security Council resolution is a big blow to Israeli policy, a unanimous international condemnation of settlements and a strong support for the two-state solution," Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said on Friday.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas believed the resolution is a 'big blow to Israeli policy,' his spokesman said. (Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)

Israel, however, condemned the resolution as "disgraceful" and lambasted the U.S. for its abstention. 

"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," Danny DanonIsrael's ambassador to the United Nations, said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it "a significant step" to reconfirm the vision of a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Parting shot by Obama

The U.S. abstention was seen as a parting shot by U.S. President Barack Obama, who has had an acrimonious relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and who has made settlements a major target of peace efforts that have proven ultimately futile.

The resolution demanded that Israel "immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem" and said the establishment of settlements by Israel has "no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law."

A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the United States, France, Russia, Britain or China to be adopted.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain, both Republicans, blasted the Obama administration's decision to abstain.

Ryan said in a statement the U.S. abstention was "absolutely shameful" and a "blow to peace." McCain said in a statement the U.S. move "has made us complicit in this outrageous attack."

The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in a 1967 war. Israel disputes that settlements are illegal and says their final status should be determined in talks on Palestinian statehood. The last round of U.S.-led peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians collapsed in 2014.

Israeli boys play outside their home in the Jewish settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank on Nov. 22. The UN Security Council has passed a motion demanding an end to Israeli settlements. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
Israeli teenagers walk on graffiti reading in Hebrew 'Soldier, policeman, refuse order' as they prepare for an expected eviction of the Jewish settlement outpost of Amona in the West Bank on Dec. 9. (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

Likely to be ignored

The passage of the resolution changes nothing on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians and likely will be all but ignored by the incoming Trump administration.

But it was more than merely symbolic. The resolution formally enshrined the international community's disapproval of Israeli settlement building and could spur further Palestinian moves against Israel in international forums.

Trump, who called for a veto along with Netanyahu, is likely to be a more staunch supporter of Netanyahu's right-wing policies. He named a hardline pro-Israel ambassador and vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

After the vote, Trump tweeted that "things will be different" when he takes office on Jan. 20. 

Netanyahu issued a statement saying Israel looks forward to working with Trump to counter any effects of the resolution.

"The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes," the statement said.

"Israel looks forward to working with president-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution."

Former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper tweeted his thanks to Trump for being a "principled voice on Israel" 

A senior Israeli official said on Thursday that if adopted there was "zero chance" the Israeli government would abide by the measure.

Under the UN Charter, member states "agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council."

The 15-member council had been due to vote on Thursday, but Egypt withdrew the draft resolution, under pressure from Israel and Trump, who spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

An Israeli youth builds structures in the Jewish settlement of Amona, in the West Bank, in November. Nearly 600,000 Jewish settlers now live in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)