21 October 2018
File picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) during a meeting with then presidential candidate Donald Trump in New York on Sept. 25. Photo: Reuters/Kobi Gideon/Government Press Office
File picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) during a meeting with then presidential candidate Donald Trump in New York on Sept. 25. Photo: Reuters/Kobi Gideon/Government Press Office

Egypt delays UN resolution on Israel amid Trump pressure

Egypt abruptly delayed a vote on its proposed UN resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank amid pressure from US President-elect Donald Trump.

The United States intended to allow the UN Security Council to approve the draft resolution scheduled to be put to a vote on Thursday afternoon, prompting Israel to ask Trump to apply pressure, Reuters reports.

Diplomats said Cairo had acted under pressure from Israel and to avoid alienating Trump, who spoke to the Egyptian president and urged the White House to use its veto.

By late Thursday, four Security Council members had given Egypt an ultimatum and threatened to put the draft resolution to a vote.

The two Western officials said President Barack Obama had intended to abstain from the vote, a relatively rare step by the US to register criticism of the building on occupied land that Palestinians want for a state.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had an acrimonious relationship with Obama, believes the Obama administration had long planned the council vote in coordination with the Palestinians, a senior Israeli official said.

“It was a violation of a core commitment to protect Israel at the UN,” the official said.

The White House had no immediate comment.

US officials have voiced growing fears that a “two-state” solution is imperiled by Israeli settlement building and have been more willing to voice open criticism, including, the two Western officials said, via Thursday’s planned vote.

A US abstention would have been seen as a parting shot by Obama, who has made the settlements a major target of his – ultimately futile – peace efforts.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, which in 1979 became the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel, called Trump on Thursday, a Trump transition official said, saying they spoke broadly about laying the ground for Middle East peace.

Sisi’s office said the two leaders spoke.

“The presidents agreed on the importance of affording the new US administration the full chance to deal with all dimensions of the Palestinian case with a view of achieving a full and final settlement,” presidency spokesman Alaa Yousef said.

The resolution would demand Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” and said the establishment of settlements by Israel has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.

Egypt, currently a Security Council member, worked with the Palestinians to draft the text.

The senior Israeli official said Israel remained concerned the resolution could still go ahead with another sponsoring country.

It was not clear what pressure Israel may have put on Egypt but there are several ways it could do so, including curtailing Israeli security cooperation in Egypt’s fight against Islamist militants in the Sinai desert.

Netanyahu took to Twitter in the dead of night in Israel to make the appeal for a veto.

Hours later, Trump 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 State Department declined to comment immediately on reports of the planned abstention.

Israel’s far-right and settler leaders have been buoyed by the election of Trump, who has signaled a possible change in US policy by tapping a fundraiser for a major Israeli settlement as Washington’s ambassador to Israel.

Netanyahu, for whom settlers are a key constituency, has said his government has been their greatest ally since the capture of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.

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 favor and no vetoes by the United States, France, Russia, Britain or China to be adopted.

The United States has vetoed dozens of Security Council resolutions on Israel and it is rare for it to abstain.

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