West Bank  settlement - AP-  Jan. 24, 2011
The West Bank settlement of Ariel Photo by AP
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The United States is putting heavy pressure on the Palestinian Authority and Arab states to withdraw a draft resolution condemning Israeli settlements. The resolution is due to come up for a vote at the United Nations Security Council on Friday.

Washington has made it clear that it will veto the resolution should it come to a vote, and has implored the Palestinian Authority and other Arab nations to withdraw the proposal, but to no avail.

The point of the resolution, foreign diplomats say, is to highlight Washington's isolated position on the Security Council, show the Palestinian population that the Palestinian Authority is taking action, and to pressure Israel and the United States on the settlement issue.

The resolution has nearly 120 co-sponsors, exclusively Arab and other non-aligned nations. UN diplomats said that the draft would probably receive 14 votes in favor and the one veto if put to an immediate vote.

The Security Council is expected to vote Friday on the draft. Should the vote take place, it will be the first time the United States has used its veto power since Barack Obama assumed the presidency.

The Obama administration is exerting great effort to get the Palestinians to withdraw the proposal. Several days ago U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a phone conversation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in an attempt to sway him, and the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, met Tuesday with ambassadors of several Arab countries, emphasizing that the U.S. has an interest in a compromise that will make a veto superfluous.

The draft uses the relatively moderate language that the "Quartet" of Middle East peace negotiators - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - have used in previous statements on settlements.

Fourteen members of the United Nations Security Council, including permanent members Britian and France, support the Palestinian initiative. The United States is the only Security Council member nation that opposes the draft.

It says that "Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace."

The Obama administration is embarassed by the episode, because the Palestinian proposal accurately reflects their own stated official position on the settlements, which makes it difficult to oppose the resolution.

On the other hand, the Americans believe that if the Security Council passes the resolution, it will create another obstacle that would hinder the resumption of peace talks.

The U.S. administration is making every effort to not have to use its Security Council veto, especially after the uprising in Egypt, because doing so would further erode its standing in the eyes of the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.

According to the Bloomberg news agency, diplomatic sources quoted Rice as saying that in return for the resolution being dropped, the United States would back "stronger statements on settlement construction and other issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the Security Council and the Middle East Quartet."

Rice also reportedly said that the U.S. would weigh lending its support to a Security Council trip to the Middle East proposed by Russia. But both offers apparently fell on deaf ears.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo made clear that Washington's position on the settlements issue - that it should be resolved in direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians - had not changed.

"We therefore consistently oppose attempts to bring these issues to this council, and we will continue to do so because such action moves us no closer to the goal of negotiated final settlement," DiCarlo told the council.

"Rather, we believe it would only complicate efforts to achieve that goal," she said at a council meeting on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

But some European U.S. allies believe a resolution could be useful if the Palestinians then resumed peace talks. Restating condemnation of settlements "could be something instrumental in not keeping the settlement issue at the center," Portuguese Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral told reporters.

Intensive U.S. diplomatic efforts to revive direct peace talks between Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu collapsed last year over settlement construction.

Israel has repeatedly called for a resumption of direct negotiations with the Palestinians. But the Palestinians have refused to return to the negotiating table until Israel first agrees to renew its 10-month freeze on West Bank settlement building.