The United Nations Security Council on Thursday postponed a vote on an Egyptian-drafted resolution demanding that Israel immediately halt its settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, diplomats said. The vote had been set to take place later in the day.
Egypt requested the delay to allow time for consultations on the measure, but no new time or date was scheduled. One unnamed Western diplomatic source told Reuters that the vote was postponed “potentially indefinitely.”
Egypt sought the postponement at Israel’s request, after “high level” contacts between the two governments, Reuters said.
The delay came as Israel was scrambling to head off a possible surprise move by the United States, with some indications the Obama administration may not have been willing to exercise its veto power.
According to a report in the Israeli news site Walla, an unnamed Israeli official said that outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry told a Palestinian delegation to Washington earlier this month that the US would not veto the resolution; however, the Palestinians later reportedly denied this claim.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet for an emergency session Thursday evening, just hours before the vote was scheduled.
Netanyahu, who earlier in the day called on the US to veto the resolution, issued a statement before his ministerial meeting saying he hoped the Obama administration “won’t abandon” the longstanding policy “of the US to stand up in the UN and veto anti-Israel resolutions,” calling it “one of the great pillars of the US-Israel alliance.”
PM Netanyahu: Israelis deeply appreciate the willingness over many years of the US to stand up in the UN and veto anti-Israel resolutions. pic.twitter.com/sAquM91tql
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) December 22, 2016
“I hope the US won’t abandon this policy; I hope it will abide by the principles set by President Obama himself in his speech in the UN in 2011: That peace will come not through UN resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties. And that’s why this proposed resolution is bad. It’s bad for Israel; it’s bad for the United States; and it’s bad for peace,” Netanyahu said.
Kerry had been scheduled to speak Thursday on the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks ahead of the scheduled vote, but his address was reportedly canceled after news of the vote’s postponement came out.
US President-elect Donald Trump earlier Thursday came to Israel’s defense, calling on the Obama administration to veto the resolution and describing it as “extremely unfair” to Israelis.
“As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations,” Trump said on his social media accounts Thursday.
The passing of such a resolution, he added, would put “Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.”
One senior Israeli official charged Thursday that the US would be in breach of its commitment to not back one-sided anti-Israel resolutions if it allowed the resolution to pass.
“We hope America doesn’t breach its longstanding commitment to advance peace through negotiations,” a senior official told The Times of Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If they don’t veto, it will be a last gasp by the Obama administration, as they expect policy to change with the new [Trump] administration. We hope President Obama stays true to his words in 2011 that peace won’t come through statements at the UN.”
The UN draft resolution submitted by Cairo called on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”
It further expressed “grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution,” and called on all states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967,” which some analysts say invites boycotts of Israeli settlements goods.
The draft also condemned “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction,” which some in the international community understand as turning the resolution into a “balanced” text.
The US vetoed a similar resolution at the United Nations in 2011.
At his speech to the UN General Assembly in September that year, Obama declared: “Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.”
Over the past few months, as Jerusalem prepared for a possible anti-Israel resolution at the Security Council, Netanyahu often quoted that passage from Obama’s speech, insisting that the White House block any effort to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace effort via international forums.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.