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Policy Reversal: U.S. Announces Rebuke of Israel Before the UN Security Council

On Friday, the United States informed Arab governments that it intends to support a U.N. Security Council resolution stating that it "does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity," a move that U.S. diplomats hoped would help bypass a veto dispute over a stronger Palestinian resolution which would condemn the settlements as illegal.

But according to a report from the Turtle Bay UN blog at Foreign Policy, the Palestinians rejected the American offer late Wednesday and insisted they would press for a vote on their own resolution Friday. "The decision to reject the American offer raised the prospects that the Obama administration may cast its first ever veto in the U.N. Security Council," the report stated.

Perhaps more significant, however, the U.S. offer signaled a willingness to break with its key ally and join others in the council in condemning construction of new Israeli settlements.

The Palestinian delegation, along with the council's Arab member Lebanon, have asked the council's president this evening to schedule a meeting on Friday. But it remained unclear whether the Palestinian move today is simply a negotiating tactic aimed at extracting a better deal from the United States.

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, outlined the new U.S. offer in a closed door meeting on Tuesday with the Arab Group, a bloc of Arab countries from North Africa and the Middle East. In exchange for scuttling the Palestinian resolution, the United States would support the council statement, consider supporting a U.N. Security Council visit to the Middle East, the first since 1979, and commit to supporting strong language criticizing Israel's settlement policies in a future statement by the Middle East Quartet.

The U.S.-backed draft statement -- which was first reported by Al Hurra -- was obtained by Turtle Bay. In it, the Security Council "expresses its strong opposition to any unilateral actions by any party, which cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community, and reaffirms, that it does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process." The statement also condemns "all forms of violence, including rocket fire from Gaza, and stresses the need for calm and security for both peoples."

U.S. officials were not available for comment, but two Security Council diplomats confirmed the proposal. The Arab Group was scheduled to meet this afternoon to formulate a formal response to the American offer. Council diplomats said that the discussions were fluid and that there was still the possibility that the U.S. draft would be subject to further negotiations. They said it was also not yet certain that the U.S. offer would satisfy the Arab Group, and that the U.S. may be forced to veto the Palestinian resolution.

Turtle Bay notes that Obama administration officials insist the only way to resolve the Middle East conflict is through direct negotiations with both Israel and the Palestinians.  The Obama administration has previously refused to negotiate with the Palestinians on resolution condemning the settlements, but the group's current proposal would have to voted on on the bases of consensus in the 15-nation council.

In addition, Turtle Bay notes that "virtually all 14 other member states" on the Security Council are prepared to support the Palestinian resolution, leaving the U.S. isolated in its opposition.

The U.S. concession comes as the Middle East continues to face an expanding wave of unrest that has so far toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and poses a threat to a number of other governments in the region.

One last thing…
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