By Michelle Nichols and Jeffrey Heller
| UNITED NATIONS/JERUSALEM
UNITED NATIONS/JERUSALEM Egypt postponed a U.N. Security Council vote on Thursday on a resolution it proposed demanding an end to Israeli settlement building, diplomats said, after Israel's prime minister and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump urged Washington to veto it.Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told Egypt's U.N. mission to postpone the vote, which would have forced U.S. President Barack Obama to decide whether to shield Israel with a veto or, by abstaining, to register criticism of the building on occupied land that the Palestinians want for a state, diplomats said.In a sign that they feared Obama might abandon the United States' long-standing diplomatic protection for Israel at the United Nations, Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the White House to veto the draft resolution.Sisi put off the vote after a request from Israel, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Egypt was the first Arab state to make peace with Israel.Any council member can propose a draft resolution. Council member Egypt worked with the Palestinians to draft the text.Netanyahu took to Twitter in the dead of night in Israel to make the appeal, in a sign of concern that Obama might take a parting shot at a policy he has long opposed and at a right-wing Israeli leader with whom he has had a rocky relationship.Hours later, Trump, posting on Twitter and Facebook, backed fellow conservative Netanyahu on one of the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the pursuit, effectively stalled since 2014, of a two-state solution."The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed," Trump said."As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations. This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis."Egypt circulated the draft on Wednesday evening and the 15-member council had been due to vote at 3 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Thursday, diplomats said. It was unclear, they said, how the United States, which has protected Israel from U.N. action, would vote.
The resolution would demand Israel "immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem".The draft text put forward by Egypt says the establishment of settlements by Israel has "no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law".It also expresses grave concern that continuing settlement activities "are dangerously imperilling the viability of a two-state solution". The White House declined comment. Some diplomats hoped Obama would allow Security Council action by abstaining on the vote.Israel's security cabinet was due to hold a special session at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) to discuss the issue. Israeli officials voiced concern that passage of the resolution would embolden the Palestinians to seek international sanctions against Israel.
In Beirut, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters: "The continuation of settlements is completely weakening the situation on the ground and creating a lot of tension. It is taking away the prospect of a two-state solution. So this could reaffirm our disagreement with this policy." OBAMA CRITICAL OF SETTLEMENTS
Obama's administration has been highly critical of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. U.S. officials said this month, however, the president was not expected to make major moves on Israeli-Palestinian peace before leaving office in January.Netanyahu tweeted that the United States "should veto the anti-Israel resolution at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday".
Israel's far-right and settler leaders have been buoyed by the election of Trump, the Republican presidential candidate. He has already signalled a possible change in U.S. policy by appointing one of his lawyers, a fundraiser for a major Israeli settlement, as Washington's ambassador to Israel.Netanyahu, for whom settlers are a key component of his electoral base, has said his government has been their greatest ally since the capture of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.Some legislators in his right-wing Likud party have already suggested Israel declare sovereignty over the West Bank if the United States does not veto the resolution.That prospect seemed unlikely, but Netanyahu could opt to step up building in settlements as a sign of defiance of Obama and support for settlers.Israel considers all of Jerusalem its capital, a claim that is not recognised internationally. The United States says continued Israeli settlement building lacks legitimacy, but has stopped short of adopting the position of many countries that it is illegal under international law. Some 570,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the United States, France, Russia, Britain or China to be adopted. (Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington, John Irish travelling with French foreign minister, and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Tom Heneghan and James Dalgleish)
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Updated Date: Dec 22, 2016 23:15:05 IST