U.S. Vetoes U.N. Condemnation of Israel

After a U.S. veto in the Security Council, the Palestinians promised to seek a U.N. General Assembly vote on a resolution condemning Israel for building a massive security fence that critics say essentially freezes the Mideast peace process.

The United States was the lone vote against the resolution on the 15-member Security Council Tuesday, though four nations abstained. The vote came after a daylong open debate in which most of the 40 nations that spoke condemned Israel for building the barrier, which cuts into the West Bank (search), as a grab for land.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte (search) said the resolution was "unbalanced" and "did not further the goals of peace and security in the region."

The United States suggested additions to the document to call on all parties in the Middle East struggle to dismantle terrorist groups. But the Palestinians and Syria, which had introduced the draft, rejected the changes and went ahead with the vote anyway.

The Palestinian U.N. observer, Nasser Al-Kidwa (search), lamented the American decision and said there can be no Mideast peace process so long as Israel continues building the barrier.

"The continuation of the construction of this wall will virtually end the two-state solution and the potential for peace in the region," Al-Kidwa warned. "It is that important."

The request for Security Council action came a week after the Israeli Cabinet approved an extension of the barrier that would sweep around Jewish settlements deep in the West Bank.

Before last week's decision, the barrier a network of fences, walls, razor wires and trenches had largely kept to the 1967 Israel-West Bank dividing line known as the "Green Line," diverting in some places a few miles into the West Bank to enclose Jewish settlements.

Israel insisted the barrier is essential to prevent suicide attacks and by doing so would help create an atmosphere conducive to peace talks.

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman (search) praised the veto. He said the world community should focus on Palestinian bombers killing innocent civilians, not Israel's barrier.

"No lie is so bold and audacious as the one which pretends that Israel's actions occur in a vacuum and are not in response to years and years of terrorism of the most vicious and brutal kind," Gillerman said.

Al-Kidwa said the Palestinians would seek an emergency session of the General Assembly to introduce a similar resolution. Its adoption is certain because there are no vetoes in the 191-member body.

General Assembly resolutions unlike those of the council aren't legally binding but carry symbolic weight.

The United States has frequently vetoed Arab-backed resolutions seeking to censure Israel because they did not contain explicit condemnations of terrorist groups.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad, whose country is the only Arab nation on the 15-member council, introduced the draft resolution Thursday on behalf of the 22-member Arab League. After the vote, Mekdad said the U.S. veto damaged Washington's role in efforts toward a lasting Mideast peace.

"To be very frank, the image of the United States as a superpower, as a co-sponsor of the peace process, will definitely suffer," Mekdad said.

The four countries that abstained were Bulgaria, Cameroon, Germany and Britain.

There was almost universal condemnation of the wall during the day's debate. Several countries portrayed it as racist and colonialist, and an overreaction that would turn some parts of the Palestinian territories into "open-air prisons."

Negroponte repeated the U.S. position that the United States doesn't favor the barrier, though he said Israel has the right to protect itself.

"We have urged Israel to consider carefully the consequences of its actions," Negroponte said. "We also urge both parties to avoid actions that exacerbate the situation."

After the open meeting, the Security Council adjourned and diplomats said the United States was proposing changes. Negroponte has insisted any resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must condemn terrorist activities by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups.

Negroponte said the United States would have been open to further discussion but Syria was insistent on a vote. "And under the circumstances we had no choice but to veto it."