Palestinians say vote Friday on settlements

The Palestinians said the U.N. Security Council will vote Friday on a resolution to condemn Israeli settlements, rejecting a compromise proposal by the United States as too little, too late.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, made the announcement after a closed-door meeting late Wednesday of the 22-member Arab Group, which endorsed the decision. He called settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital, the "main obstacle" to the resumption of peace negotiations with Israel and said construction must stop.

Calling for a vote now, Mansour said, "is our effort to respond to what is happening in the Middle East by not putting the issue of the Palestinian question on the back burner but to put it on the front burner."

The United States, Israel's closest ally, has voiced opposition to settlement building. But Washington also opposes bringing the issue to the U.N.'s most powerful body, arguing that this complicates U.S.-led efforts to resume stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks where the settlement issue should be resolved.

Friday's vote puts the Obama administration in a difficult position because a veto would anger the Palestinians and its many supporters around the world while an abstention would anger the Israelis. Either way, the U.S. vote could complicate efforts to resume direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, especially at this sensitive time of widespread anti-government protests in the Mideast.

At a meeting Tuesday with key Arab nations, diplomats said U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice proposed a weaker Security Council presidential statement instead of a legally binding resolution. The U.S. also promised to support a council visit to the Middle East and to include language in the next communique of the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers sought by the Palestinians on the 1967 border.

The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967. They want negotiations to start on the basis of the 1967 border, but have said they are ready to adjust it in a land swap to let Israel to keep some of the Jewish settlements it has build on occupied land.

Asked why the Palestinians rejected the U.S. proposal, Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz told several reporters after Wednesday's meeting "the reason given by the Palestinians was that it's too little, too late."

Mansour, the Palestinian envoy, said the draft resolution used language from previous resolutions and statements by the Quartet, which includes the U.S., U.N., European Union and Russia, in order to get maximum support.

The resolution says that "Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace."

Since the resolution was circulated in mid-January, Mansour said, "we demonstrated tremendous amount of flexibility and understanding."

"We hope that everyone will be on board on Friday," he said. "We hope that it will not be vetoed."

When Egypt's Abdelaziz was asked what would be accomplished if the U.S. vetoes the resolution, he responded by asking: "What is accomplished by the United States Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) saying we are against settlements but we do not want to go to the Security Council about it, and we do not want to do anything about it with Israel? What are we going to accomplish at the other end?"