Susan Rice
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice Photo by AP
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United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Friday that the American veto of a UN Security Council draft resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction as illegal should not be seen as an endorsement of the policy.

"We reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity," Rice said.

She said the overriding issue for the Obama administration was whether the resolution would lead to renewed peace negotiations.

"Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides. It could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations and, if and when they did resume, to return to the Security Council whenever they reach an impasse," said Rice.

Rice said the U.S. and its fellow Council members are in full agreement about the urgent need to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, based on the two-state solution.

"The only way to reach that common goal is through direct negotiations between the parties, with the active and sustained support of the United States and the international community," she said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement saying the U.S. veto undermined international law and suggested the Obama administration was being hypocritical.

"President Obama wants to tell the Arab world in his speeches that he opposes settlements, but he won't let the Security Council tell Israel to stop them in a legally binding way," said HRW's Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, speaking on behalf of Britain, France and Germany, condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank. "They are illegal under international law," he said.

Rice agreed with her fellow Council members "about the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity" but said, "We think it unwise for this Council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians."

The United States, as one of the five permanent UN council members with the power to block any action by the Security Council, voted against the draft resolution, thus striking it down. The other 14 Security Council members voted in its favor.

The decision to cast a veto was made because the resolution was “unbalanced, one sided and counterproductive," said Rice.

“All of our colleagues at the Security Council and many of our partners understand that the U.S. made an unprecedented effort to promote steps towards the two-state solution, and many followed these efforts with admiration," said Rice.

Rice said it was unfortunate that the Palestinians rejected the package offered by the U.S. to drop the resolution draft, for it had the potential to move the peace process forward.

As for the expectations from Israel following the veto, Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser for communications, added that the U.S. Administration “made clear that we are going to be persistent," but also said, "The solution cannot be imposed from outside. We can’t want it more than the parties, and it’s up to the leaders now to advance the process and build trust, according to the commitment embraced by the leaders last September."

Friday's veto was the 10th U.S. veto on a Mideast issue since 2001, and the first by the Obama administration. The last U.S. veto in the Security Council was Nov. 11, 2006 on a resolution calling for an end to Israeli military operations and the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.


U.S. lawmakers and Jewish organizations praise Obama's first veto

National Jewish Democratic Council Chair Marc R. Stanley and President and CEO David A. Harris: From further isolating the U.S. within the Security Council to potentially further inserting anti-Israel sentiment into the awakening of democratic fervor throughout the Arab world, and in so many other ways, this vote to stand by Israel does have negative consequences.

Pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC: Far too often, the UN has served as an open forum to isolate and delegitimize Israel – America's lone stable, democratic ally in the Middle East. AIPAC hopes the administration continues to reject any further attempts by the Palestinian Authority to isolate the Jewish state.

American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris: [The resolution] would have caused irreparable damage to the future prospects of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham H. Foxman: With its undue focus on Israeli settlements, while failing to refer to other difficult and complicated issues in Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the resolution was fundamentally flawed.

Jewish Council on Public Affairs: The U.S. stood firmly on the side of peace. The UN is simply a wrong forum to solve these issues.

U.S. Senator Mark Kirk: The U.S. should never compromise on its commitment to the preeminent democracy in the Middle East. The Administration acted correctly in opposing the latest attempt by the UN to castigate one of America's strongest allies.

Representative Henry A. Waxman: The U.S. veto reaffirms that the only productive course ahead is for the Palestinian leadership to resume direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions.

Representative Eliot L. Engel: A one-sided resolution only serves to discredit the UN and make the Palestinians more intransigent in refusing to negotiate a peace treaty.