In a rare condemnation of Israel, the UN Security Council has said its settlements in occupied Palestinian territories have no legal validity.
The vote on Friday only passed because the US declined to use its veto – as its has dozens of times in the past – and instead abstained from voting. In doing so, the Obama administration not only permitted Israel to be rebuked, but also rejected a call from both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump, to block the move.
The resolution was put forward at the 15-member council for a vote by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal a day after Egypt withdrew the measure under pressure from Israel and the US President-elect.
It was adopted with 14 votes in favour, to a round of applause. It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, said: “Today the Security Council reaffirmed its established consensus that settlements have no legal validity. The US has been sending the messages that the settlements must stop, privately and publicly, for nearly five decades.
Our vote today is fully in line with the bipartisan history of how American presidents approach both the issue and the role of this body.
The resolution says Israel’s settlements on Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have “no legal validity”. It demands a halt to “all Israeli settlement activities”, saying this is essential for salvaging the two-state solution.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN criticised the US’s failure to veto the vote, and said the country looks forward to a new era of UN-Israel relations under the new US President and new UN Secretary General.
The UN action as a whole was “a big blow to Israeli policy, a unanimous international condemnation of settlements and a strong support for the two-state solution,” a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement published by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
The US abstention was seen as a parting shot by Mr Obama, who has had an acrimonious relationship with Mr Netanyahu and who has made settlements a major target of peace efforts that have proven ultimately futile. Last year, Mr Netanyahu was invited to address the joint houses of Congress, where he condemned Mr Obama’s deal with Iran.
The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in a 1967 war. Israel disputes that the settlements are illegal and says their final status should be determined in talks on Palestinian statehood. The last round of US-led peace talks collapsed in 2014.
Reuters said that passage of the resolution will likely change nothing on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians. It is also likely to be ignored by the incoming Trump administration.
At the same time, it may have been more than merely symbolic as it formally enshrined the international community’s disapproval of Israeli settlement building and could spur further Palestinian moves against Israel in international forums.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz has said the US has abandoned Israel by abstaining in a UN Security Council vote demanding an end to Israeli settlements.
He told Channel Two News: “This is not a resolution against settlements, it is an anti-Israel resolution, against the Jewish people and the state of the Jews. The United States tonight has simply abandoned its only friend in the Middle East.”
Mr Trump also later weighed in, saying on Twitter that things will be “different after January 20”.