Sensitive UN Security Council Mideast Vote Looms

Patrick Goodenough | February 18, 2011 | 3:18am EST
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Riyad Mansour, the permanent observer of “Palestine” to the United Nations, addresses a Security Council meeting on October 18, 2010. (UN Photo by Paulo Filgueiras)

( – Tense moments are expected Friday at the United Nations Security Council, where the U.N.-friendly Obama administration looks set reluctantly to exercise its first ever veto to kill an Arab-sponsored resolution critical of Israel.

Earlier, the administration came under fire from pro-Israel lawmakers over reports that it was offering a Security Council presidential statement critical of Israeli settlement policy as a way to avoid having to take a public stand on the resolution.

A statement from the body’s president – Brazil holds the rotating presidency this month – is a far weaker diplomatic response to a situation than a legally-binding resolution.

However, the Palestinian U.N. envoy, Riyad Mansour, said a meeting of Arab states’ diplomats had rejected the U.S. compromise proposal and would ensure the resolution was put to a vote on Friday.

As one of the council’s five permanent members, the U.S. is empowered to veto resolutions to which it strongly objects. Every president since President Nixon did so at least once to block resolutions relating to the Middle East. The George W. Bush administration cast 10 vetoes cast between 2001 and 2006, nine of them dealing with the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Having made engagement with the U.N. a key foreign policy priority, the Obama administration has made it through two years without wielding the veto power.

Against that background, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice was reported to be engaged in vigorous negotiations to avoid having the resolution put to a vote. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Thursday afternoon that “private diplomatic discussions” were continuing in New York, but refused to “get into the details.”

“There are a lot of rumors flying around, and I’m not going to get into any specifics at this time,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters after a meeting with Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright.

“We have consistently, over many years, said that the United Nations Security Council and resolutions that would come before the Security Council are not the right vehicle to advance that goal,” she said. “So we are working with our partners in the Security Council, with our friends in the region, to find a consensus way forward that is consistent with our overall approach.”

Earlier, pro-Israel lawmakers and others took the administration to task over its reported willingness to agree to a presidential statement sharply critical of Israel.

“Pretending that criticism of Israel is OK if it comes in a ‘Presidential Statement’ instead of a resolution isn’t leadership, it’s unacceptable,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Twisting and turning and tying yourself in knots to avoid using our veto to defend our allies and interests isn’t leadership, it’s unacceptable.”

“The Obama administration has shown an astonishing unwillingness to stand by Israel at the United Nations, an organization with a long history of blaming Israel for just about every problem in the Middle East,” said former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a potential 2012 Republican presidential contender.

“It’s time for our U.N. ambassador to finally show some leadership, draw a line in the sand, and defend our historic ally,” he added. “Global stability depends more than ever on a respected America that is loyal to our allies and realistic about the malice of our adversaries.”

Also weighing in was New York Democrat Rep. Nita Lowey, ranking minority member on the Appropriations Committee’s state and foreign operations subcommittee.

“Compromising our support for Israel at the United Nations is not an option,” she said. “The United States must veto the U.N. resolution on settlements to make clear we will not support such a blatant attempt to derail the peace process.”

The future of Israeli settlements in the disputed West Bank is a major issue in efforts to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More than 300,000 Israelis live in the communities, which range from small villages to towns with populations exceeding 30,000.

The Arab-sponsored resolution before the Security Council states, “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.”

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