Secretary of State John Kerry is defending the Obama administration’s decision to effectively allow the United Nations to condemn Israel for attempting to build more settlements in the disputed West Bank, saying the “unprecedented” effort has spawned terrorism and violence that jeopardizes lasting peace in the region.
The United States on Friday abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote to adopt a resolution condemning Israel’s settlement expansion, which allowed for the measure’s passage and resulted in the disapproval of incoming Republican President Donald Trump.
“Things will be different after Jan. 20,” Trump tweeted minutes after the vote.
Kerry said Israel’s continued and stepped-up attempts to build more settlements, or communities, in the region, which includes East Jerusalem, risks the so-called “two-state” solution between Israelis and the Palestinians, who also lay claim to the region.
“The United States acted with one primary objective in mind: to preserve the possibility of the two state solution, which every U.S. administration for decades has agreed is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians," Kerry said Friday. “Two states is the only way to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbors, and freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people.”
He also said the administration does not agree with “every aspect” of the resolution but that it “rightly condemns violence” and calls on both sides to take constructive steps to reverse current trends and advance the prospects for a two-state solution.
The resolution was put forward by four nations a day after Egypt withdrew it Thursday under pressure from Israel and Trump.
The U.S. not vetoing the measure is being considered a snub to the country’s key Middle East ally and attributed to outgoing Democratic President Obama, who has had chilly relations with Israel throughout his eight-year tenure.
Reaction from U.S. Republicans and Jewish leaders around the world was swift and sharp.
"It was to be expected that Israel's greatest ally would act in accordance with the values that we share and that they would have vetoed this disgraceful resolution," said Israel's Ambassador Danny Danon. "I have no doubt that the new U.S. administration and the incoming UN Secretary General will usher in a new era in terms of the UN's relationship with Israel."
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., blasted the administration for appearing to undermine America's historic Middle East ally.
"This is absolutely shameful," he said. "Today's vote is a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel."
Former GOP presidential candidate and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee called the administration’s move “a big mistake.”
Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust and president of Human Rights Voices, said the contention that settlements, and not Palestinian terrorism, is the obstacle to peace is false.
"This UN resolution represents the Big Lie of modern anti-Semitism," Bayefsky said. "Palestinians' backers on the Council, New Zealand and Malaysia, made today's slander clear, claiming Jews living peaceful, productive lives on Arab-claimed land was the 'single biggest threat to peace' and "primary threat to a two-state solution.’
"Seven decades of violent Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state prove otherwise."
The measure was adopted with 14 votes in favor, to a round of applause, after U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power abstained. It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.
Powers said the U.S. used its veto power in 2007 on a similar matter but that “circumstances have (since) changed dramatically.”
“One cannot simultaneously champion Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution,” she said. “One has to make a choice.”
The Obama White House, under heavy pressure from the Israeli government and its supporters to veto the resolution, kept everyone guessing until the vote whether it would stop shielding Israel from council resolutions and permit it to pass by abstaining.
After the vote, White House officials acknowledged on a conference that Obama made the decision himself after several rounds of discussions with top administration officials.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said afterward that the U.S. has only one president at a time.
Israel believes it has the right to expand settlements in the disputed territories as populations within them expand. Palestinians do not believe the settlements should exist at all, and world condemnation of expansion is seen as a possible first in that direction.
The resolution calls on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activity in occupied territories, including East Jerusalem.” And it repeated the longstanding U.N. position that all settlements on land Israel conquered in 1967 are illegal under international law.
A senior Israeli official accused the U.S. of a "shameful move" after learning that it did not intend to veto the text, the BBC reported.
As one the council five permanent members of the council, the U.S. has veto power and has used it to sheltered Israel from condemnatory resolutions. But the Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory, even though it gives Israel tens of billions annually in assistance.
“This last minute political maneuvering is shameful," said Ric Grenell, former spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the U.N. and a Fox News contributor. "Today’s abstention by the Obama administration will make it harder to find a peaceful solution because it imposes outside positions on Israel without letting them negotiate directly.”
Fox News' Eric Linton and Jonathan Wachtel contributed to this report.