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If Obama opposes Israeli settlement activity, why did US veto UN vote?

A United Nations resolution condemning Israeli settlements, which the US vetoed Friday, put the US in a difficult position at a time when Arabs are rallying for freedom and democracy.

By Staff writer / February 18, 2011

A Palestinian man walks on his property overlooking the Israeli settlement Har Homa in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In the United Nations Security Council Friday, the United States vetoed a resolution condemning such settlements as illegal.

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In its first United Nations veto, the Obama administration on Friday voted against a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as "illegal."

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As one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the US used its power to overrule the other 14 Security Council members, all of whom voted for the resolution.

The UN vote puts the United States in a difficult position – particularly at a time when freedom and democracy are being fought for in the streets of Arab nations.

“The US has a long history of trying to prevent the United Nations from becoming an instrument to coerce Israel, but I think in normal circumstances the US veto would be less uncomfortable,” Stewart Patrick, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, told Bloomberg News. “They have a huge priority not to change the subject of the conversation from oppression of Arabs and Muslims by their own autocratic governments.”

Still, the vote Friday is in line with stated US policy.

That is, it favors direct talks between the parties without a role for the UN in establishing a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors – especially with Palestinians. Friday’s veto was the 10th time in the past 11 years that the US has voted against a UN measure considered critical of Israel. Over a longer period, there have been dozens of such votes on behalf of Israel.

At the same, officials continue to make clear that the Obama administration strongly opposes expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

Ambassador Rice: US opposes settlements

After voting on the resolution, US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice emphasized that "our opposition to the resolution before this council today should … not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity.”

“On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” Ambassador Rice said.

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