UNITED NATIONS — President Obama’s administration cast its first-ever veto in the UN Security Council yesterday, blocking a Palestinian-backed draft resolution that denounced Israel’s settlement policy as an illegal obstacle to peace efforts in the Middle East.
The US vote killed off a resolution that enjoyed the backing of the 14 other members of the UN Security Council and isolated the United States on a crucial Middle East matter at a time of political upheaval in the region.
US Ambassador Susan Rice said the veto should not be seen as an endorsement of Israel’s settlement policies, which the Obama administration has repeatedly denounced.
But she said adoption of the resolution risks undermining US-led efforts to pursue a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We reject in the strongest term the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activities,’’ Rice said after the vote. “For more than four decades, Israel’s settlement activities have undermined Israel’s security and eroded hopes of peace and security in the region.’’
But, she added, “Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides and could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations.’’
The US action brought at end to an urgent last-minute diplomatic campaign, involving conversations between Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to convince the Palestinians to drop their resolution in favor of a milder statement rebuking Israel for constructing new settlements in seized Arab lands.
The US government last cast its veto in the Security Council in 2006, when President George W. Bush’s administration vetoed a resolution calling for a halt to Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.
The defeated resolution reaffirmed that all Israeli settlements established since 1967 “are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace.’’ It also demanded that Israel “cease all settlement activities.’’