JERUSALEM – The White House has not yet decided whether it will support a Palestinian initiative for a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
On Friday, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters in Washington: “We understand there is an early draft that the Palestinians have shared informally in New York.”
The US is one of five nations with veto power on the 15-member council.
“I’m not going to comment on what is really an informal draft resolution,” Toner was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying on Friday. “Nothing has been formally introduced or circulated at the Security Council, and nothing has been introduced by a Security Council member.”
“We’ve spoken from here and elsewhere about our concerns about ongoing settlement activity, and that we believe they’re illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace in the Middle East. And that hasn’t changed,” he said, referring to the Obama administration’s official view of the settlements.
But, he added, “I just want to set that apart and say that’s just a draft resolution. It’s not ready – as we say, not ready for prime time yet. So we’ve seen it, but we’re not going to comment on it at this current form.”
The draft, delivered to Security Council member states last week, calls for a halt to settlement construction and condemns violence by Israeli settlers. It refers to settlements in the West Bank and in eastern Jerusalem.
Israel’s delegation to the UN found out that the Palestinians were circulating the draft last week after they noticed members of the Palestinian delegation were unusually active, and informed the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and the Prime Minister’s Office, the Hebrew-language news site Ynet reported on Thursday.
The Israeli delegation said in a statement the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was taking a step that drives negotiations farther away.
“The only way to advance peace is by direct negotiations and Abu Mazen [Abbas] is avoiding this. The Palestinians educate their children on a daily basis that the settlements are Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Acre.”
According to Ynet, the Palestinian draft seems to be an attempt to put the Obama administration to the test during the US president’s last year in office.
The US already vetoed a similar draft in 2011, which would have passed were it not for the American veto.
The wording chosen for the draft last week is moderate, avoiding reference to recognition of a Palestinian state or a demand for any real action from the international community. Banking on the stated position on settlements coming from the White House, the draft is phrased in a way that seems calculated to make it hard for the American delegation to justify using its veto power as it did five years ago.
A Palestinian official was quoted by Ynet last week saying a final decision on whether to raise the resolution to an actual vote has yet to be made. He said the Palestinians are leaning toward presenting the draft, wagering that this time around the resolution may be adopted.
Abbas is scheduled to arrive in New York later in April to sign a climate change treaty. He is expected to advance the resolution, should the Palestinians decide to go forward with it.