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Mitchell Bard on America's Veto at UN
MYTH: America's veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning settlements undermined peace talks

In a direct rebuke to the Obama Administration, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected a number of compromise offers from the President to express concern about the settlements and, instead, insisted on a vote at the United Nations Security Council on a resolution condemning Israeli settlements as "illegal" and calling for an immediate building cessation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The United States vetoed the resolution, according to UN Ambassador Susan Rice, because "[the resolution] could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations." 489

It was especially ironic that the UN would be devoting its energy to debating settlements at the very time when much of the Arab Middle East was in upheaval. Rather than direct its attention to turmoil in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, the Security Council was considering a measure that would not have had any impact on Israeli policy and done nothing to advance the cause of peace.
The Palestinians may well have insisted on bringing the matter to a vote in an effort to divert attention away from embarrassing revelations disclosed in leaked documents from their negotiating teams that indicated, among other things, an acceptance of some Israeli settlements in exchange for Palestinian statehood. 490 By going to the UN the Palestinians may have also hoped to justify their ongoing refusal to engage in direct negotiations with Israel. Though never insisting on a settlement freeze before President Obama called for one, Abbas has now made this a prerequisite for future talks.
Abbas also appears to have concluded that Obama's failure to force Israel into a settlement construction freeze means that the U.S. cannot be counted upon to compel Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands. Thus, instead of direct talks, the Palestinians are attempting to avoid compromise by stoking international pressure on Israel to concede on the issues. Since talks broke down in September 2010, the PA has been engaged in a global campaign to convince countries to endorse the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 armistice lines. The UNSC resolution was yet another effort to convince the international community to impose a solution on Israel.
Even if the resolution had passed, it would not have altered the status of settlements in international law since the Security Council is a political body with no judicial power. The council would also have contradicted its own precedents. UNSC Resolution 242, which passed in 1967 and remains the agreed basis for a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, calls for unspecified Israeli withdrawal from territory but only with the guarantee of secure and defensible borders.
Rather than mutually discussing the pertinent issues to resolve the conflict, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians have launched, in the words of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, "a political offensive against the State of Israel" that includes exploiting the UN to weaken Israel's international legitimacy. 491 By accepting its role as a pawn of the Arab world, the United Nations Security Council has proven yet again that it lacks the legitimacy or the backbone required to play a constructive role in facilitating peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been and still remain the only way forward to resolve the longstanding conflict in our region. Therefore, the resolution before [the Security Council] should never have been submitted. Instead the international community and the Security Council should have called upon the Palestinian leadership - in a clear and resolute voice - to immediately return to the negotiating table without preconditions and to renew direct negotiations."
- Meron Reuben, Israeli Ambassador to the UN 492

489 Hilary Leila Krieger, "US Vetoes UN Resolution Condemning Settlements as Illegal", Jerusalem Post, (February 19, 2011).
490 Ian Black, "Israel Spurned Palestinian Offer of 'Biggest Yerushalayim in History'", The Guardian, (January 23, 2011).
491 Herb Keinon, "Israel has Shown Genuine Desire to Renew Negotiations", Jerusalem Post, (February 22, 2011).
492 Ambassador Meron Reuben, "The Situation in the Middle East Including the Palestinian Question", Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations, (February 18, 2011).