Lawmakers in US and Israel urge Obama to veto anti-settlement resolution

Members of the Senate and House on both sides of the aisle say Security Council motion would do more harm than good

Senate Minority Leader-elect Chuck Schumer of New York in an interview with The Associated Press in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Senate Minority Leader-elect Chuck Schumer of New York in an interview with The Associated Press in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Lawmakers in Israel and the US, as well as American Jewish groups, urged President Barack Obama Friday to veto a Security Council resolution demanding an end to settlement activity in the West Bank.

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the Obama administration “must veto this resolution,” shortly before the council convened to vote on the motion.

“I am strongly opposed to the UN putting pressure on Israel through one-sided resolutions,” Schumer said. “An abstention is not good enough.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said the motion “will undermine peace and mutual cooperation by pushing the parties further away from direct negotiations. The administration should veto it.”

Several other Democratic and Republican lawmakers expressed similar sentiments.

In this Sept. 21, 2016 file photo, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
In this Sept. 21, 2016 file photo, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Representative Grace Meng, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its Subcommittee on the Middle East, issued a statement warning that the “Egyptian-proposed resolution wrongly targets Israel and the US must veto it if the measure is brought-up for a vote.”

“Such unfair and one-sided resolutions undermine the trust necessary for direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians,” Meng continued. “It is direct negotiations that will bring about the common goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security.”

Meng’s statement framed the vote, which is scheduled for Friday evening, as inconsistent with Washington’s traditional stance.

Obama administration officials have frequently reiterated that they will continue to deploy the United States’ Security Council veto against resolutions that are one-sided in their targeting of Israel.

At the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum earlier in December, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States would utilize its veto in the event of “a biased, unfair resolution calculated to delegitimize Israel.”

The United States has argued in the past that UN initiatives that do not bring both sides to the table do not further the quest to achieve an agreement between Israel and Palestinian representatives.

That sentiment was echoed by other Democrats who called on Obama to maintain the administration’s traditional policy toward such UN initiatives.

“Action by the UN Security Council will not advance the conditions for peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” warned Florida representative Ted Deutch, urging Obama to veto the resolution.

In Israel Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid said the measure, if passed, would “give a tailwind to terrorism and violence, it will not advance negotiations but block them.”

He called on Washington “in the name of the eternal friendship between Israel and the US… to veto the resolution.”

A number of Jewish groups issued urgent statements condemning the resolution and calling for a US veto, even as they emphasized their support for the two-state solution.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs issued a statement saying that it “strongly opposes” the resolution, and urging the US to exercise its veto power. The organization described the draft resolution as “one-sided,” complaining that it “erroneously lays the entirety of the blame for the present impasse in the peace process on Israeli settlements rather than Palestinian refusal to come to the table.”

“All those who support a peaceful resolution to the conflict should oppose this resolution,” stated JCPA President and CEO David Bernstein. “If the Palestinians feel that the UN will deliver Israel for them, why would they negotiate?”

Bernstein warned that “by treating all construction as equally problematic, the UN will paradoxically make it harder for future Palestinian, Israeli and American leaders to negotiate.”

“It limits their room to maneuver,” he explained.

“While one-sided UN resolutions are nothing new, this latest resolution is particularly astonishing given the Secretary-General’s comments just days ago decrying the UN’s obsession with resolutions just like this,” JCPA chair Cheryl Fishbein said, urging Obama “to continue his track record of vetoing anti-Israel resolutions.”

Even some groups that traditionally hold a critical stance toward Israeli construction in the West Bank warned of the destructive impact of the Security Council resolution.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union for Reform Judaism noted that while his group “has a long-standing policy of opposition to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” the URJ “stands firmly against any UN resolution that would dictate the way forward on this complicated issue. The United Nations has a long and troubling record of hostility to Israel, and it has proved itself incapable of playing a constructive role.”

Jacobs noted that the URJ “remains deeply concerned by the statements being made by the president-elect’s advisors regarding the new US administration’s policies favoring settlement expansion that would undermine the possibility of a two-state solution,” and emphasized that “we are especially concerned that the continuation of settlement without a two-state horizon is cutting off all options toward maintaining a Jewish democratic state.”

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations issued an “urgent call” for a US veto.

Conference Chairman Stephen M. Greenberg and Executive Vice Chairman and CEO Malcolm Hoenlein, called on Obama to “immediately announce that the United States will veto the resolution being introduced by Venezuela, Senegal, New Zealand and Malaysia at the UN Security Council in the next hours.”

“This is the moral thing, the right thing, and the imperative thing for the President to do in keeping with the veto he exercised on a similar resolution in 2011. After Egypt’s President el-Sisi courageously withdrew the resolution from the Security Council and the Arab League meeting yesterday did not reinstate it, these four countries took it up despite the obvious damage it will do to any prospects of a meaningful peace process,” they warned. “This resolution is unacceptable on many grounds including that it is another end-run by Chairman Abbas to avoid the responsibilities inherent in direct and meaningful negotiations. It would be a historic mistake for the Administration in its waning days to abandon the policies it has pursued, let alone allow the damage it will do to the relationship with Israel and other countries in the region. There is no positive outcome from the passage of this resolution.”

A number of organizations launched emergency calls for supporters to contact the White House and their Congressional representatives urging for a US veto rather than abstention.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) issued an action alert to its supporters on Friday afternoon, telling recipients to contact the White House immediately to stress the importance of a US veto.

“Overwhelming, bipartisan majorities in Congress have repeatedly urged the administration to veto biased resolutions of this sort,” the message told AIPAC members. “The UN is not the proper venue for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and one-sided resolutions only undermine productive efforts to pursue peace. The United States must continue to oppose these harmful efforts at the UN and exercise its veto.”

“Efforts to bypass direct bilateral negotiations only serve to hinder the peace process,” the organization warned.

Yesh Atid party chairman MK Yair Lapid speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, November 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesh Atid party chairman MK Yair Lapid speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, November 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On the opposite side of the spectrum, however, Americans for Peace Now issued a statement Friday afternoon calling on Obama to either abstain or cast a US vote in support of the resolution.

“The resolution submitted to the UNSC this afternoon is pro-Israel in the deepest sense of the term, supporting Israel’s existence and security, and standing against those who would sacrifice both at the altar of settlements, for an ideological, expansionist agenda,” the organization wrote in a statement. “This resolution reiterates international consensus, grounded in previous Security Council resolutions and international law, dating back nearly five decades, regarding the illegitimacy of settlements and rejecting settlement-related policies of successive Israeli governments.”

A vote in favor of the resolution, the organization argued, would “reaffirm longstanding US positioning and language in the Security Council on this issue.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned Friday evening that Washington could cut off funding to the United Nations — as well as to certain member states — if the Security Council passes a resolution against Israeli settlements Friday evening.

“If the United Nations moves forward with the ill-conceived resolution, I will work to form a bipartisan coalition to suspend or significantly reduce United States assistance to the United Nations,” Graham said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

The resolution cannot pass if Washington exercises its veto power at the council, though Israel and American officials exchanged blows in the media Friday evening amid reports that the Obama administration did not plan to do so.

Earlier Israel’s envoy to the UN Danny Danon urged Washington to veto any such motion at the Security Council.

“This is an anti-Israeli resolution spearheaded by Palestinians, the entire purpose of which is to hurt Israel,” Danon said in a statement after news broke that the resolution was likely to come to a vote despite sponsor Egypt pulling its support. “We call on the US to stand by us and expect our greatest ally to stick to its long-standing position and to veto the decision.

“We say again to the members of the Security Council: No solution will be advanced by UN resolutions, but only through direct negotiations,” he added.

Four members of the Security Council — New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela — said they would bring the original Egyptian draft resolution to a vote Friday after Cairo, under pressure from US President-elect Donald Trump, withdrew the measure.

“The key goal that we have here is to preserve and reaffirm the two-state solution,” French Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters. “The text that we have does not exclusively focus on settlements. It also condemns the violence and terrorism. It also calls to prevent all incitement from the Palestinian side so this is a balanced text.”

Diplomats said the same draft resolution would be submitted to a vote, at the request of the four countries.

The draft resolution demands that “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

It states that Israeli settlements have “no legal validity” and are “dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution” that would see an independent Palestine co-exist alongside Israel.

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