USA vetoes draft UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements + takes back its alternative offer, too

The U.S. cast its first veto in the UN Security Council on Friday [18 February] under the Obama administration, according to the Washington Post’s Colum Lynch.

UN photo of US Amb Susan Rice casting veto on 18 Feb 2011

UN photo of US Ambassador Susan Rice casting veto on 18 February 2011

All of the other 14 members of the UNSC voted in favor of the resolution, which would have condemned Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.  At least 120 UN member states co-sponsored the resolution, despite a few last-minute drop-outs…

The draft resolution, if it had passed, would have “demanded that “Israel, as the occupying power, immediately and completely ceases all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and that it fully respect its legal obligations in this regard”.

The British Ambassador later made a point of saying not only that Israeli settlements are illegal, but also added that the three largest EU members hope to see Palestinian State by September of this year. Britain and France are two of the Security Council’s five permanent members who have the power to veto a resolution, and Germany is now one of the Security Council’s ten non-permanent members who have ordinary voting powers — all three voted in favor of the Palestinian-supported draft resolution that the U.S. vetoed.

The U.S. apparently preferred to say only that Israeli settlements were “illegitimate”.

UPDATE: A post on the Arabist blog here highlights this point:
“It’s rather morbid to read the detailed justification for this. From a State Dept. briefing here:
QUESTION: Yes, Ambassador Rice, you say that you reject the continued building of settlements on the West Bank as being illegitimate. Yet you vote that no on a resolution that calls it illegal. Why is that, considering that the State Department, as far back as 1978, considered settlement activities illegal?
AMBASSADOR RICE: The United States has not characterized settlement activity as illegal since, I believe, 1980. And – but what we do believe firmly and have reiterated forcefully, including today, is that continued settlement activity is not legitimate”…

Continue reading USA vetoes draft UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements + takes back its alternative offer, too

An overhaul in U.S. Mideast Policy?

U.S. Senator John Kerry, who recently visited the region — including post-war Gaza — said to Voice of American recently that inauguration of a new U.S. administrations presents “an extraordinary chance to signal a new regional approach to the Middle East”.

There have been several signals recently, during the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton a few days after Kerry had come through, that the U.S. is, indeed, taking a wider approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a joint press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his Ramallah headquarters, Clinton told journalists that “The Obama Administration will be vigorously engaged in efforts to forge a lasting peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and all of the Arab neighbors”.

In the same press conference, Abbas confirmed in response to a journalist’s question that Clinton had brought a letter (or a message) from U.S. President Obama.  Abbas said the letter contained Obama’s assurances that he is fully committed to the peace process, that the United States supports the Palestinian (National) Authority, and the Road Map — and the Arab Peace initiative (proposing full recognition and normalization of relations with Israel, if Israel fully withdraws from Palestinian lands it occupied in the June 1967 – including East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza).

VOA reported in an analysis piece from Washington today that Kerry said “there has been a tectonic shift in the geopolitics of the Middle East.Kerry says the rise of Iran following the war in Iraq has created an unprecedented willingness among moderate Arab nations to work with Israel.  ‘”To start with we need to fundamentally re-conceptualize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a regional problem that demands a regional solution. The challenges that we face there – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Middle East peace process – form an interconnected web that requires an integrated approach’, he said.

As the VOA noted in the report, two senior U.S. envoys have visited Syria, “the highest level talks between Washington and Damascus since 2005”; President Obama has announced the timetable for withdrawal of American combat forces in Iraq: and Obama has decided to open the door to the possibility of direct engagement with Tehran.

The VOA report can be read in full here.

In a separate news story, VOA reported that “European Union officials will meet Sunday [15 March] with envoys from Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to discuss the situation in the Middle East. The bloc’s Czech presidency said Wednesday that the meeting in Brussels will focus on Egypt’s role in mediating Middle East negotiations. A representative from Jordan will also attend the meeting”. This report can be read in full here.

U.S. State Dept Spokesperson – Egypt should decide how to proceed with Gaza border

Nothing might seem more normal: U.S. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told journalists at his daily briefing in Washington today that “We are confident that the Egyptians are capable of handling their own sovereign responsibilities along the border…From our perspective, up to the Egyptians to determine how they would like to proceed. They’re a sovereign nation and this is their border with Gaza and ultimately it’s their responsibility”.

Here is a map from the BBC World Service website:

Egypt's border with Gaza - heavily breached along red dotted line

The airport down in the lower corner, labeled “not is use”, has been destroyed once by Israeli forces, rebuilt, then damaged again so badly by Israel that it is now unusable.

Until now, Israel did not like at all the idea that Egypt alone should supervise its border with Gaza. Remember the very recent affair of the Palestinian pilgrims going to Mecca? Then coming back?

The 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel specifies that all of the Sinai, which Israel returned only gradually to Egypt in three stages ending in 1982, should be demilitarized. Only Egyptian “border police” are allowed there, not Egyptian military forces, and only in specified numbers.

Israel insisted on supervising everything that went on at that border, to the extent that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice stayed up all night on her birthday in November 2005 to work out an agreement on the Rafah crossing — it was to be operated by European Union personnel, who would be watched on camera by Israeli security personnel, in real time, not on delayed video. [See later post above]

In 2005, an increase in the number of Egyptian border police was agreed, and now up to 750 are allowed on the border.

Now, these remarks from the U.S. State Department spokesperson on Thursday suggest that the U.S. is open to a renegotiation of that arrangement.

And, Israel’s Debka File (which relies on its alleged good security connections to go “beyond” what the regular media are reporting), said on Thursday that “Early Thursday, Jan. 24, American forces and equipment withdrew from the Multi-force Organization base at Al Gura northeast of al Arish. This force monitors Sinai’s demilitarization under a key clause of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Washington and Cairo are discussing evacuating the entire base and its 400 multinational personnel*. The Egyptian high command was informed that Hamas had begun moving some of its elite units to its new stronghold. [it is not clear what this means — but it certainly does not mean to this MFO base at al-Gura]

*Helena Cobban comments in her blog, here, that: “If true — and I have no reason to doubt that it is — then this is huge. The Multi-National Force and Observers (MFO) was created in 1979 as a US-led ‘coalition of the willing’ force tasked with monitoring implementation of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. If the force is now being redeployed (=withdrawn) from the area bordering Gaza, that is already a major development. But now, in addition, Egypt and Washington are discussing evacuating the El-Gorah base, which is one of the MFO’s two main operating bases? The political crisis in Cairo provoked by yesterday’s bust-out of Palestinians from Gaza into Sinai seems to be much deeper than I had previously thought”.

Debka File continues: “Egyptian forces are not capable of contending with this strength or the hundreds of thousands of Gazan on the move between Gaza and Sinai since Hamas blew up the concrete border fence Tuesday. [n.b., If this is true, it is in part of course because the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty imposes limitations on Egyptian military moves in the Sinai.] Israeli officials continue to treat the crisis as a problem for Egypt to address, rather than emanating from Israel’s failure to pre-empt Hamas’ well-laid plan with timely and appropriate military action. Senior military sources told DEBKAfile that Hamas’ strategic feat is irreversible. By demolishing the 10-km concrete barrier dividing the Gaza Strip from Egyptian Sinai, Hamas has acquired a new stronghold outside Israel’s military reach while their missiles and guns retain access to Israeli targets from the Gaza Strip”. This analysis was posted on 24 January here.

Meanwhile, Israel has issued a travel alert for Israeli tourists in the Sinai to return home immediately, and it has closed Road 10 (is this the Philadelphi Road when it reaches the Gaza Strip?)…

This came after a day in which various Israeli military sources said they wanted Egypt to take over full responsibility for Gaza — Israel wants to give Gaza away to Egypt, to renew the situation as it was between 1948 and 1967.

But Egypt said no, thanks. Or, was it: No Way! Actually, however, it might be able to persuade Egypt…