The Cable

The latest on the Palestinian U.N. resolution on settlements

The Palestine Liberation Organization, no longer willing to follow the Obama administration's diplomatic lead, is gambling that its latest drive for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements will put more pressure on both the Israeli government and the Obama administration.

The U.S. administration, caught between its desire to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table and its reluctance to abandon Israel at the United Nations, has not officially decided what it will do if and when the Palestinian resolution ever comes up for a Security Council vote.

"I'm not going to speculate on how we might vote, but we've made very clear both our policy on settlements as well as our belief that action in the United Nations or any other forum is not particularly helpful," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

The resolution itself, which has 122 co-sponsors and the support of Security Council members Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, India, Nigeria and South Africa, is undergoing several rounds of revision in New York. The Cable has obtained a version of the resolution circulated among U.N. diplomats Jan. 18, which can be found here. Under this draft, the Security Council:

1. Reaffirms that the Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;

2. Reiterates its demand that Israel, the occupying Power, immediately and completely ceases all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard;

3.  Calls upon both parties to act on the basis of international law and their previous agreements and obligations, including under the Roadmap, aimed, inter alia, at improving the situation on the ground, building confidence and creating the conditions necessary for promoting the peace process;

4. Calls upon all parties to continue, in the interest of the promotion of peace and security, with their negotiations on the final status issues in the Middle East peace process according to its agreed terms of reference and within the timeframe specified by the Quartet in its statement of 21 September 2010;

5. Urges in this regard the intensification of international and regional diplomatic efforts to support and invigorate the peace process towards the achievement of a comprehensive, just  and  lasting  peace  in  the  Middle  East.

The State Department tried and failed to convince the PLO to not bring up the resolution. U.S. officials asked Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to delay bringing the resolution forward during his trip to Washington last week, the PLO's representative in Washington, Maen Rashid Areikat, told The Cable in an interview. Areikat said the Palestinians hope the United States will eventually come around to support the resolution, but that the PLO had no choice but to proceed.

"The Obama administration cannot tell us not to resort to the U.N. when the international community has failed to stop the illegal settlement activity by Israel which is changing things on the ground," Areikat said. "How long are we supposed to stand by with no results? [The administration] has to tell us what it is they intend to do to move towards a solution to this problem."

Areikat indicated that the Feb. 5 meeting in Munich of the Quartet, which is composed of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia, could be an opportunity to head off a confrontation at the Security Council. However, he didn't say outright that the Palestinians would wait that long before calling for further action.

 "They're in no particular rush. They want to see if this can be used as leverage so the U.S. can come in with some other compromise," said Steve Clemons, foreign policy head of the New America Foundation.

But the Obama administration isn't yet ready to come out with a plan for revitalizing the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Clemons said.

"The administration has been working really hard to move Netanyahu on the settlements and to try to push Abbas into a position to sit down regardless of what was happening on settlements. But there seems to be complete gridlock," he said.

Clemons has been leading a drive among foreign policy professionals in Washington to convince the Obama administration not to veto the resolution.

"If the proposed resolution is consistent with existing and established US policies, then deploying a veto would severely undermine US credibility and interests, placing us firmly outside of the international consensus, and further diminishing our ability to mediate this conflict," read his letter to President Obama, which was signed by several other foreign policy professionals.

Daniel Levy, the co-director of the New America Foundation's Middle East Task Force, explained that Abbas is under intense pressure domestically to show strength vis-à-vis Israel, and absent a more aggressive plan from Washington, has no choice but to pursue international support for the Palestinian cause.

Meanwhile, the Israelis have no plans to stop settlement activity, regardless of what happens with the Security Council resolution. But like the Palestinians, they are also looking to Washington to chart the road ahead for the peace process.

"We're all in a kind of wait and see mode to see what the U.S. administration is planning to do," an Israel official said.

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