abbas netanyahu - AP - September 15 2010
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Jerusalem, September 15, 2010. Photo by AP
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A Palestinian official said on Friday that the United States veto of an Arab-sponsored United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement building on occupied land harmed the cause of peace by letting Israel escape its obligations.

"The American veto does not serve the peace process and encourages Israel to continue settlements, and to escape the obligations of the peace process," said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a close aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"This veto will complicate matters in the Middle East," he told Reuters shortly after news of the vote from U.N. headquarters in New York.

Earlier Friday, Israel's Foreign Ministry said in response to the UN draft resolution that direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians was and is the only way to resolve the conflict.

"The distance between Ramallah and Jerusalem is short. All that is demanded of the Palestinians is to return to the negotiating table with no preconditions," the statement continued. "It is indeed peculiar that the Security Council should choose to consider one single aspect out of the full range of core issues of the Israeli – Palestinian negotiations, while ignoring the wider scope of events in our region."

The U.S. voted against the UN resolution, which would have condemned Israeli settlements as illegal. The veto by the U.S., a permanent council member, prevented the resolution from being adopted.

The U.S. opposes new Israeli settlements but says taking the issue to the UN will only complicate efforts to resume stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on a two-state solution.

"Israel appreciates the American position, which contributes to the resumption of the diplomatic process, and regrets that the other Security Council members have refrained from making the same contribution," said Israel's Foreign Ministry.

Peace negotiations were halted in September after a temporary Israeli settlement freeze expired. Palestinians refuse to return to the negotiating table unless settlement building halts completely, including in East Jerusalem.

Israel says that the Palestinian insistence on a halt to building is an excuse for avoiding peace talks and a precondition never demanded before during 17 years of negotiation, which has so far produced no agreement.