U.S. veto at UN dashes hope for Mideast peace talks

11:04, February 20, 2011      

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Despite its vow to intensify peace efforts in the Middle East, Washington vetoed an anti-settlement resolution at the UN Security Council Friday, dealing a blow to the hope that Israelis and Palestinians could reach an accord in near future.

Peace talks were suspended in September when Israel called a halt to a moratorium on construction of settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, despite pressure from the United States.

"With a single vote the United States put a definite end once and for all to the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians," said Reza Aslan, a contributor to Foreign Policy magazine and thedailybeast.com.

"The (U.S. President Barack) Obama administration more or less gave up on the whole peace process plan."

So, is it at a dead end or not?

Some voices, mainly out of the region claim Washington's lone vote against the resolution sponsored by more than 120 members of the world organization dashed hopes of an agreement. A dissenting vote by one of the five permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- vetoes any resolution.

Many also say the U.S. action hurts Washington on the "Arab Street" when it has largely escaped vitriol from anti-government protesters in demonstrations sweeping across the Middle East.

"This veto is not going to help the peace process, and it is going to complicate things in the Middle East," Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying. "It comes at a very dangerous time. The whole area is boiling, and this American attitude is not going to help stabilize the region."

The vetoed proposal condemned the continuation of settlement activities by Israel and called the settlements "illegal."

Under pressure from Israel and constituents in the United States, Washington balked at saying the settlements were "illegal," a description it stopped using about three decades ago, replacing it with "illegitimate."

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, the one who held her right hand aloft to cast the veto, claimed her action did not signal a change in U.S. policy.

"As the United States has said on many, many occasions for many years, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity," she told reporters on Friday night in a telephone briefing with reporters. "We view Israeli settlement activity in territories that were occupied in 1967 as undermining Israel's security, its democracy, and hopes for peace and stability in the region."

"The U.S. and other Council members are in full agreement on that, but also in full agreement about the urgent need to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, more urgent than ever, given recent developments in the region," Rice added. "And that resolution needs to be based on a two-state solution and an agreement between the two parties that establishes the viable, independent, and contiguous state of Palestine, once and for all."

Her argument was that the settlements issue was a key one and a resolution of the issue could not be imposed but had to be reached by agreement between the two parties.

At the end of the voting session in the council's chamber on Friday, this month's rotating Council president, Brazilian UN Ambassador Maria Luiza Rebeiro, agreed the settlements were a key issue but felt adoption of the resolution would have sent word that more construction threatened peace in the region.

She said Israel halting construction would not be a concession to the Palestinians because international law forbids such construction, something with which most members of the panel appeared to agree.

Israelian UN Ambassador Meron Reuben insisted the settlements issue has to be negotiated.

The United States tried to head off the resolution by proposing to the Palestinian Authority a statement read out by the president of the council but which does not carry the weigh of international law as does a resolution and to get the diplomatic Middle East Quartet of Russia, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union to issue a statement on the controversy.

So what about the offers now?

"We view these as a very important proposal and offer that would have taken the process forward," Rice said in the post-vote briefing. "It had the unanimous support of the Security Council. And the fact that they were not accepted is unfortunate and was a choice that was not made by the United States. So the viability of the package and its individual components needs to be reassessed not only by us, but by members of the Council and the parties themselves in light of its lack of traction to date."

Source: Xinhua
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