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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.

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"The United States has been deeply committed to pursuing a comprehensive and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians," she said. "In that context, we have been focused on taking steps that advance the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, rather than complicating it. That includes a commitment to work in good faith with all parties to underscore our opposition to continued settlements."

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To the extent that he can, President Obama has played a direct role in this most recent issue. For nearly an hour Thursday, he spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about the Security Council issue.

But Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton failed to head off the proposed vote. The US favors instead a compromise measure that includes a call for a freeze on settlements, a visit to the region by a UN Security Council delegation, and a statement by the “Mideast Quartet” (the US, the European Union, the UN, and Russia) referring to 1967 borders in reference to a Palestinian state.

What the UN resolution said

The US-vetoed resolution, which had been sponsored by 130 countries, "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."

It also reiterated its “demand that Israel, the occupying power, immediately and completely ceases all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."

The US veto brought swift critical reaction.

"President Obama wants to tell the Arab world in his speeches that he opposes settlements, but he won't let the Security Council tell Israel to stop them in a legally binding way," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "What's needed from the Obama administration is a clear and consistent message that settlements on occupied territory are illegal and must be dismantled."

Since 2000, 14 Security Council resolutions have been vetoed by one or more of the five permanent members (Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States), reports Al Jazeera. Of those, 10 were US vetoes, nine of them related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Talks between Israel and Palestinian officials collapsed in 2010 over expiration of a moratorium on Jewish settlement building.

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