Posted By Colum LynchWednesday, February 16, 2011 – 6:00 PM Share
The U.S. informed Arab governments Tuesday that it will supporta U.N. Security Council statement reaffirming that the 15-nation body “does notaccept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” a move aimedat avoiding the prospect of having to veto a stronger Palestinian resolutioncalling the settlements illegal.
But the Palestinian’s rejected the American offer following a meeting late Wednesdy of Arab representativs and said it is planning to press for a vote on its resolution Friday, according officials familar with the issue. The decision to reject the American offer raised the prospects that the Obama adminstration may cast its first ever veto in the U.N. Security Council.
Still, the U.S. offer signaled a renewed willingness to seek a way out of the current impasse, even if it requires breaking with its key ally and joining others in the council in sending a strong message to Israel to stop its construction of new settlements. The Palestinian delegation, along with the council’s Arab member Lebanon, have asked the council’s president this evening to schedule a meeting on Friday. But it remained unclear whether the Palestinian move today is simply a negotiating tactic aimed at extracting a better deal from the United States.
Susan E. Rice,the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, outlined the new U.S. offer in aclosed door meeting on Tuesday with the Arab Group, a bloc of Arab countriesfrom North Africa and the Middle East. In exchange for scuttling thePalestinian resolution, the United States would support the council statement, consider supporting a U.N. Security Councilvisit to the Middle East, the first since 1979, and commit to supporting strong language criticizing Israel’s settlementpolicies in a future statement by the Middle East Quartet.
The U.S.-backed draft statement — which was first reportedby Al Hurra — was obtained by Turtle Bay. In it, the SecurityCouncil “expresses its strong opposition to any unilateral actions by anyparty, which cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not berecognized by the international community, and reaffirms, that it does notaccept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is aserious obstacle to the peace process.” The statement also condemns “all formsof violence, including rocket fire from Gaza, and stresses the need for calmand security for both peoples.”
U.S. officials were not available for comment, but two SecurityCouncil diplomats confirmed the proposal. The Arab Group was scheduled to meetthis afternoon to formulate a formal response to the American offer. Councildiplomats said that the discussions were fluid and that there was still thepossibility that the U.S. draft would be subject to further negotiations. Theysaid it was also not yet certain that the U.S. offer would satisfy the Arab Group,and that the U.S. may be forced to veto the Palestinian resolution.
U.S. officials argue that the only way to resolve the MiddleEast conflict is through direct negotiations involving Israel and thePalestinians. For weeks, the Obama administration has refused to negotiate withthe Palestinians on a resolution condemning the settlements as illegal,signaling that they would likely veto it if it were put to a vote. ThePalestinians were planning to put the resolution to a vote later this week. ButSecurity Council statements of the sort currently under consideration are votedon the bases of consensus in the 15-nation council.
The United States has , however, been isolated in the15-nation council. Virtually all 14 other member states are prepared to supportthe Palestinian resolution, according to council diplomats. A U.N. Security Council resolution generally carries greater political, and legal force, than a statement from the council’s president.
The U.S. concession comes as the Middle East is facing amassive wave of popular demonstrations that have brought down the leaders ofTunisia and Egypt and are posing a challenge to governments in Algeria, Bahrain,and Iran.