By Adedayo Adejobi, with Agency Reports
The United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution demanding that Israel stop building settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories, after the US abstained in spite of ferocious criticism from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
The resolution was passed with 14 votes from the 15-member security council, hours after a senior Israeli official accused US President Barack Obama of working “behind Israel’s back” to cook up the resolution, in a broadside against the outgoing government of Israel’s closest ally.
The verbal assault came a day after Egypt proposed and then withdrew a resolution calling on Israel to end the settlement activity. Mr. Netanyahu’s government saw the initiative as a parting shot from Mr. Obama’s administration after years of strained relations.
Ahead of the vote, Washington had not said whether it would exercise its veto — as it had done repeatedly over decades to protect Israel from critical United Nations resolutions — or abstain to allow the resolution to pass.
“President Obama and secretary of state John Kerry are behind this shameful move against Israel at the UN,” the senior Israeli official said ahead of the vote.
“The US administration secretly cooked up with the Palestinians an extreme anti-Israeli resolution behind Israel’s back which would be a tailwind for terror and boycotts and effectively make the western wall occupied Palestinian territory”.
The Jewish holy site at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City is considered Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory by the international community, but Israel considers all of Jerusalem its unified capital and annexed the city’s eastern half in 1980.
“President Obama could declare his willingness to veto this resolution in an instant, but instead is pushing it,” the senior official said. “This, an abandonment of Israel which breaks decades of United States policy of protecting Israel at the UN and undermines the prospects of working with the next administration of advancing peace.”
The remarks were made to the Financial Times by a senior Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity.
United States officials are concerned about a draft law before the Israeli Knesset that would legalise settler outposts in the occupied West Bank. They regard it as one of several steps by the Netanyahu government, which includes several pro-settler ministers, which will make the creation of a viable Palestinian state more difficult.
Donald Trump’s administration, which takes office on January 20, is expected to be much more lenient towards Israel on its building in illegal settlements, and the president-elect had promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which the Palestinians also consider their capital.
On Thursday, Mr. Trump intervened on Israel’s behalf, urging the United States to veto the Egyptian resolution and accusing the UN of “showing systematic bias” against the Jewish state. After Mr. Trump’s intervention, the Egyptian government withdrew its resolution.
Later on Thursday, Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian politician and MP, told journalists at an official dinner that statements by Mr. Trump and David Friedman, his nominee as ambassador to Israel, represented “a green light to initiation of annexing territories, especially Area C”.
Area C is the Israeli-administered part of the West Bank that Mr. Netanyahu’s far-right allies in government are urging him to annex.
The United States abstention sparked recriminations on Capitol Hill, where a large number of lawmakers opposed the move. Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said it was “shameful”.
“Today’s vote is a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonise Israel,” said Mr. Ryan. “Our unified Republican government will work to reverse the damage done by this administration, and rebuild our alliance with Israel.”
Israelis and Palestinians alike have criticised Mr. Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, for doing little to advance the cause of peace. During his administration, the United States signed off on a record $38bn, 10-year military aid package for Israel, but clashed openly with Mr. Netanyahu over the settlements, the Iran nuclear deal, and other issues.