Fingers point at US for not stalling Israeli settlement construction
Fourteen frustrated members of the UN Security Council pointed a finger at the United States last night for blocking any condemnation of Israel's accelerated settlement construction in Palestinian territory.
In a move which Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called historic, diplomats from almost all regional blocs represented on the council stepped to the microphone after closed council consultations on the Middle East to condemn the lack of progress toward a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mr Churkin, the current council president, said the frustration over the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian talks spilt out in statements from the four European Union council members, the Nonaligned Movement, the Arab League, and the group of emerging powers that includes India, Brazil and South Africa.
Clearly referring to the United States, Mr Churkin said dismissively that one delegation believes things will "miraculously" sort themselves out on their own.
"The call for bilateral negotiations without preconditions would seem a normal thing to ask for," he said.
But Mr Churkin said the Palestinians are overwhelmed militarily and in every other way by the Israelis and without preconditions they would not get a fair shake in negotiations.
The diplomats — including key US allies in Europe — also criticised the council's failure to take action against escalating violence by Israeli settlers and urged a speedy resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Britain's UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, also speaking for EU members France, Germany and Portugal, said "Israel's security and the realisation of the Palestinians' right to statehood are not opposing goals."
"On the contrary they are mutually reinforcing objectives," he said. "But they will not be achieved while settlement building and settler violence continues."
South Africa's UN Ambassador Baso Sangqu, speaking on behalf of the Nonaligned Movement of mainly developing countries, said settler attacks against Palestinian civilians increased 50 per cent this year and called Israeli settlement construction "the main impediment for the two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
While the United States was not mentioned by name, the diplomats anger was clearly directed at Washington which vetoed a resolution in February backed by the 14 other council members that would have demanded an immediate halt to all settlement building. The Obama administration has also promised to veto any Security Council resolution supporting Palestine's bid to become the 194th member of the United Nations.
The US has said repeatedly it does not support settlement building. But Payton Knopf, the US Mission's deputy spokesman, said "the only way to resolve the outstanding issues between Israelis and Palestinians is through serious and substantive direct negotiations."
The United States also opposes Security Council action on "final status issues" because this "would only harden the positions of both sides and make the resumption of negotiations more difficult," Mr Knopf said.
The Palestinians insist they will not resume peace talks until Israel halts settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which they want as a capital. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed just weeks after they restarted in September 2010 because Israel ended a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction.
Karean Peretz, spokeswoman for Israel's UN Mission, questioned why the Security Council was focusing on settlements but remained "silent and paralysed" on pressing issues including civilian killings in Syria, militant groups operating in Gaza, attacks on UN forces in Lebanon and Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.
"The main obstacle to peace, has been, and remains, the Palestinians' claim to the so-called right of return [for refugees] and its refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state," she said.
Published: December 22, 2011 04:00 AM