Blinken calls Abbas, Netanyahu as US works to block UN resolution on settlements

PA president briefs secretary of state on Palestinian-backed Security Council measure calling for halt to Israeli activity in West Bank; Blinken later calls PM to update him

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah, January 31, 2023. (Ronaldo Schemidt/Pool via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah, January 31, 2023. (Ronaldo Schemidt/Pool via AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken phoned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday, as Washington seeks to thwart a Ramallah-backed UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate halt to Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank.

Later in the day, he called Netanyahu to update him on where things stood.

The Security Council resolution has placed the US in an uncomfortable position, as it too has spoken out aggressively against last Sunday’s decision by Israel to legalize nine outposts in the West Bank and advance plans for some 10,000 new settlement homes, the largest-ever package to be green-lit in one sitting.

Additionally, the Biden administration has maintained that vetoes at the UN Security Council should be used sparingly and has been critical of Russia’s efforts to block consensus-backed initiatives over the past year. Vetoing this measure, which includes a condemnation of steps toward annexation by Israel — such as outpost legalizations, would put them at odds with countries it has asked to back UN resolutions against Russia for annexing Ukrainian lands.

However, the US has also said the UN is not the correct forum for adjudicating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has been critical of member states’ disproportionate and sometimes biased approach on the issue.

The Palestinian readout of the Saturday phone call said Abbas briefed Blinken on his office’s involvement in the Security Council initiative, which was drafted by the United Arab Emirates, the Arab League’s representative on the top UN panel.

Abbas said the UN effort was “a result of Israel’s insistence on violating signed agreements” and “underscored the need for Israel to stop all unilateral measures, including settlement construction, home demolitions, raids on cities and villages and the extrajudicial killings of Palestinians,” according to the PA readout.

Illustrative: Hayashi Yoshimasa, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, chairs a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters in New York, January 12, 2023. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The PA president urged the US to “immediately and effectively intervene to press Israel to stop all these dangerous measures” to ensure the continued prospect of a two-state solution, his office said. It added that Blinken assured Abbas that he would reach out to the Israeli government “in an effort to stop the unilateral Israeli actions on the ground.”

The State Department later released a readout saying Blinken stressed “the US commitment to a negotiated two-state solution and opposition to policies that endanger its viability.”

“The secretary underscored the urgent need for Israelis and Palestinians to take steps that restore calm and our strong opposition to unilateral measures that would further escalate tensions. Secretary Blinken and President Abbas also discussed efforts to improve the quality of life of the Palestinian people and enhance their security and freedom,” the statement added.

In a tweet about his call with Netanyahu, Blinken characterized the conversation as “productive,” reiterating the same points that were highlighted in the readout on his dialogue with Abbas.

Israel framed its Sunday cabinet decision as a response to a series of terror attacks in East Jerusalem that left 11 Israeli dead. Meanwhile, nearly 50 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the year — most in clashes with troops, though several died under less clear circumstances being investigated by the IDF.

Senior Israeli officials have leaked anonymous statements to Hebrew media noting that it will take several years before the outposts — many of them built on private Palestinian land — will be formally legalized and before ground will be broken on the settlement homes that it’ll be advancing this week.

But such assurances have failed to satisfy the Biden administration, which is wholly unconvinced that further entrenching Israeli presence beyond the Green Line will help deter future terror attacks, a US official told The Times of Israel earlier this week. In his statement condemning the Israeli settlement announcement, Blinken said the moves would be “detrimental” to Israel’s security.

Nonetheless, the US spent the past several days urging Security Council members not to bring the resolution to a vote, instead proposing that they adopt a symbolic joint statement to the same effect, which Washington could get behind, according to three UN diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity.

As of Friday afternoon though, members were still planning to bring the resolution to a vote on Monday, two senior UN diplomats said, when the Security Council will hold its monthly session to hear on developments relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, they noted that capitals were still holding consultations on the matter and that the situation was fluid.

The last time a resolution against Israel on settlements was passed by the Security Council was in December 2016. Fourteen of the body’s 15 members backed the measure while the US, under then-US president Barack Obama, decided to abstain to allow the resolution to pass, infuriating Jerusalem in the process.

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