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U.S. Abstains On U.N. Security Council Vote Condemning Israeli Settlements


Israelis are furious at the Obama administration today, while Palestinians say it's a day of victory. The U.S. let the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that condemns Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, areas the Palestinians hope will be part of a future state. In 2011, the U.S. vetoed a similar measure. It abstained today. Here, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power explains why.


SAMANTHA POWER: Since 2011, settlement growth has only accelerated. Since 2011, multiple efforts to pursue peace through negotiations have failed.

SHAPIRO: President-elect Donald Trump personally intervened to try to stop the resolution. NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is here now. And, Michele, explain what happened today.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: A lot of diplomatic drama, Ari. I mean, the Egyptians were planning to bring this to a vote yesterday, but they withdrew the draft under pressure from Israel and from President-elect Trump, who actually called Egypt's president to talk about this. But several other Security Council members decided today to move forward with the resolution. Several said that they've been worried about Israeli legislation making its way through the Knesset now that would legalize thousands of Israeli homes in the West Bank. And though this was not said on the floor of the Security Council, there's clearly a lot of concern about what the incoming Trump administration means to this issue. The man he's tapped to become ambassador to Israel has supported Israeli settlements and has said that they're not an obstacle to peace.

SHAPIRO: What does the resolution actually say?

KELEMEN: It demands that Israel stop all settlement activities in the occupied territories including East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Ambassador Power on the floor of the council said this is in line with U.S. policy for decades. It's, you know, we're talking about housing developments and even actual towns that are on land that's supposed to be under negotiations, but the Obama administration hasn't been able to get anywhere with its peace efforts between the Israelis and Palestinians. And throughout all this time, the settler numbers have been increasing. And administration officials today said they came to believe that the whole concept of a two-state solution was at risk.

SHAPIRO: Strong reaction today from Congress. Explain what we heard from Capitol Hill.

KELEMEN: That's right. I mean, you know, even the incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and many others on both sides of the aisle were - had been encouraging the Obama administration to veto this. They pointed out that the U.N. has a long history of anti-Israel bias and that this resolution's not going to do anything to promote peace. South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, a Republican, is now predicting a backlash in Congress against the U.N. That could mean changes in the way the U.S. funds the United Nations, for instance. And Trump, by the way, tweeted - he wrote, as to the U.N., things will be different after January 20.

SHAPIRO: How unusual is it for an incoming president-elect to get as involved in an issue as high profile of this as Donald Trump did with calling the Egyptian leader?

KELEMEN: It's very unusual, but in this case he didn't prevail. I mean, 14 Security Council members voted for this resolution, including the Egyptians, who he called on yesterday to back away from it. But, you know, U.S. policy is going to change in January. The Israeli government has already issued a statement saying it's looking forward to that. Today, the Israelis were accusing the U.S. of ganging up on the U.N. against Israel and colluding behind the scenes to get this resolution through. The Obama administration was vehemently denying that, but this obviously caps a very troublesome relationship between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

SHAPIRO: NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Thanks, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.