With Palestinian Support, UN Security Council Members Issue Ultimatum on Israeli Settlements

Four members of the UN Security Council told Egypt that if it doesn’t move forward with vote on Israeli settlements on Friday they might.

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FILE PHOTO: Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, speaks during the 66th annual United Nations General Assembly at the UN in New York, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011.
FILE PHOTO: Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, speaks during the 66th annual United Nations General Assembly at the UN in New York, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. Credit: Bloomberg

New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal told Egypt on Thursday that if it did not clarify by midnight whether it planned to call a vote on a draft UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, then they reserved the right to move ahead with the text, diplomats said.

The ultimatum came hours after Egypt postponed a UN vote on a Security Council resolution criticizing Israeli settlements following pressure from Israel and Trump, who had called on members to veto it.

"In the event that Egypt decides that it cannot proceed to call for vote on 23 December or does not provide a response by the deadline, those delegations reserve the right to table the draft ... and proceed to put it to vote ASAP," the four council members said in a note to Egypt, seen by Reuters.

>> A Tweet from Trump and pressure on Egyptians: How Israel delayed the UN vote on settlements | Analysis: Egyptian vote delay leaves Palestinians out in the cold | Editorial: UN vote a wake-up call <<

The Palestinians were also a party to the note, which said "there was a strong sense of disappointment" that the 15-member Security Council had not voted on the text as planned on Thursday.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi.Credit: Maya Alleruzzo, AP

Meanwhile, reports in Egypt said that President-elect Donald Trump spoke with Egypt's President al-Sissi on the phone Thursday evening. Though reports did not mention whether Trump asked him to postpone the vote, the two did speak about a number of issues, including the Egyptian resolution. The reports said that they discussed the need to give the new administration time to learn the different facets of Palestinian issue better before formulating a comprehensive policy to resolving the conflict. Reports further said that Trump invited Sissi to visit the U.S.

Despite Egypt's decision to postpone the vote following Israeli pressure, there was still a chance the vote could still take place in the upcoming days or weeks, members of Israel's security cabinet were warned Thursday evening.

A cabinet minister, who asked to remain anonymous, said that during the meeting, which lasted over an a hour and a half, the ministers were told that the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister's office currently believe that U.S. President Obama would not invoke America's veto power should the resolution be put to the vote at the Security Council.

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and Kellyanne Conway at Trump Tower, November 17, 2016.Credit: MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS

"The danger has not yet passed," the minister said, adding that Israel was still on high alert. "This is still live. Everything is open and another country could put forward an identical resolution in the upcoming day. The goal is to pressure Obama through different channels to invoke the veto while also securing the vote being delayed as much as possible until after the January 20 – when Trump enters the White House.

As part of efforts to stop the Egyptian resolution, Israel's U.S. Ambassador Ron Dermer and other Israelis reached out to President-elect Donald Trump's advisers to ask him to publish a statement against the UN resolution. As a result, Trump did voice his objection, which helped Egypt decide to postpone the vote. Dermer even tweeted that Israel's appreciates Trump's "clear and unequivocal call" to veto what he called an "anti-Israeli" resolution at the UN.

Senior Israeli officials and Western diplomats stated that the Prime Minister's Office has been applying heavy pressure of senior officials in Cairo from Thursday morning in order to bring about a postponement of the Security Council resolution.

Netanyahu himself didn't talk with the Egyptian president; the discussions took place between lower level officials. Israel's message was that the action that Egypt has taken does not coincide with the good relations and security cooperation the two countries enjoy, and was extremely harmful to Israel. The Israeli pressure and President-elect Trump's statement that he opposed the resolution are what led the Egyptians to postpone the vote on the resolution.

The immediate result of the Egyptian postponement was the cancelation of speech Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to give several hours before the vote was to take place. The news of Kerry's speech reached Jerusalem Thursday morning and further raised fears that the Obama administration was not planning to veto the resolution against the settlements. Department of State Spokesperson John Kirby said that the speech was supposed to deal with Kerry's vision concerning the Israeli-Palestinians peace agreement, and that he was planning to give it in a different date.

Kirby said he didn't know if or when the Egyptian resolution would be brought to a vote. On Thursday evening, the Arab League held a meeting on the subject. But Western diplomats think that the postponement will likely lead the resolution to fizzle away.

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