U.S. Vetoes U.N. Resolution That Would Have Condemned Israeli Settlements as 'Illegal'

The Obama administration, in a major test of its support for Israel and influence in the Arab world, vetoed a United Nations resolution Friday that would have condemned Israel for its settlements in Palestinian-occupied territories.

President Obama had issued a personal plea to Palestinians for compromise on the issue, but that plan was rejected, setting the path for the vote in the Security Council. The outcome: 14 to 1 to condemn Israel, with U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice casting the lone no vote.

The Palestinians and Arab nations pushed for the Security Council resolution condemning Israel's settlement housing construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as "illegal."

The White House proposed to admonish Jerusalem with a Security Council presidential statement, a weaker, non-binding alternative that called the settlements "illegitimate" instead of illegal.

But that wasn't good enough for the Arab bloc.

Despite Obama's lengthy telephone call with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he and the Palestinian leadership turned Obama down.

At a last-minute emergency meeting in Ramallah in the West Bank, Abbas and the Palestinian executive committee unanimously rejected the White House plea despite the American pressure. That decision then forced the United States to cast the "no" vote.

"While we agree with our fellow Council members and indeed with the wider world about the folly and the illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, we think it unwise for this Council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians," Ambassador Rice said. "We therefore, regrettably, have opposed this draft resolution."

"We came to the Council with a sensible draft resolution," countered the Permanent Observer of Palestine, Riyad Mansour. "This represented a responsible and serious attempt on our behalf, along with the entire international community, to address this issue of illegal Israeli settlement activities."

"The resolution before you should never have been submitted," Israeli Ambassador Meron Reuben said. "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."

Critics blasted the Obama administration for even considering a rebuke of Israel in a U.N. presidential statement. Republican Florida Rep. Ileana Ros- Lehtinen, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accused the White House of selling out one of our closest allies.

"Support for this anti-Israel statement is a major concession to the enemies of the Jewish state and other free democracies," Ros-Lehtinen said in a written statement. "It telegraphs that the U.S. can be pulled into abandoning critical democratic allies and core U.S. principles." She later told Fox News that "this is actually unprecedented for the United States not to have issued a veto threat weeks ago when this little monster came up."

Some observers, meanwhile, noted that the Security Council was not considering a resolution or statement supporting the protests and calls for democracy and freedom in the Arab world as it sought to single out Israel.