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Israel settlements: UN vote postponed

UN was to vote on Egypt-drafted resolution demanding Israel immediately halt its settlement activities
Residents of Amona, Israeli settlement in the West Bank (AFP)

The UN Security Council postponed a vote on a draft resolution demanding that Israel halt its settlement activities in the occupied West Bank.

Two Western officials, cited by Reuters, said that US President Barack Obama had intended to abstain from the vote.

Egypt asked for the delay to allow time for consultations, but no new time or date for the vote was scheduled.

Diplomats now say the debate on the resolution, which demands that Israel immediately halt its settlement activities in the Palestinian territories and east Jerusalem, could happen on Friday, AFP reported.

A similar resolution was vetoed by the United States in 2011, and it remained uncertain if the measure would be adopted this time.

Earlier on Thursday, US President-elect Donald Trump called for the US to veto the Egyptian proposal. 

READ: How Israeli settlements won their best ever deal

"As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations," Trump said.

He added that the resolution puts Israel in a poor negotiating position, calling the draft unfair to Israelis.

Israeli officials contacted Trump's transition team at a "high level" after failing to persuade US officials to veto the Security Council draft resolution and asked him to intervene, a senior Israeli official told Reuters.

Israeli politicians also registered their protests. Education Minister Naftali Bennett said the vote was a “Guinness world record in hypocrisy".

"I will say to everyone at the Security Council: If you raise your hand or remain silent in the vote against Israel, you're supporting the forces of terror, you're supporting airplanes hitting buildings in New York and trucks killing people in Berlin, terror attacks in Brussels, Orlando and Dallas," he said. 

Ultimatum

Israel launched a frantic lobbying effort to pressure Egypt to drop the bid and reached out to its supporters in the US and at the Security Council for support.

However, other Security Council member states pressured Egypt on delaying the resolution.

New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal told Egypt on Thursday that if it did not clarify by midnight whether it planned to call a vote on the draft resolution, then they reserved the right to move ahead with the text, diplomats said.

"In the event that Egypt decides that it cannot proceed to call for vote on 23 December or does not provide a response by the deadline, those delegations reserve the right to table the draft ... and proceed to put it to vote ASAP," the four council members said in a note to Egypt, seen by Reuters.

The Palestinians were also a party to the note, which said "there was a strong sense of disappointment" that the 15-member Security Council had not voted on the text.

The problem for Washington

Israeli settlements are seen as a major stumbling block to peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

The UN maintains that settlements are illegal and has repeatedly called on Israel to halt them, but UN officials have reported a surge in construction over the past months.

Residents and supporters of the illegal outpost of Amona gather near the Israeli PM residence in Jerusalem (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the US to use its veto to block the measure.

"Israelis deeply appreciate one of the great pillars of the US-Israel alliance: the willingness over many years of the United States to stand up in the UN and veto anti-Israel resolutions," Netanyahu said. "I hope the US won't abandon this policy."

UN diplomats have for weeks speculated as to whether the administration of Obama would decide to refrain from using its veto to block a draft resolution condemning Israel.

Obama's administration has expressed mounting anger over Israeli settlement policy and speculation has grown that he could launch a final initiative before leaving office in January.

READ: Israel should face the ICC over illegal settlement bill

The measure calls for "immediate steps" to prevent acts of violence against civilians, but does not specifically single out the Palestinians to stop incitement, as demanded by Israel.

Plans for more homes

Israel last month revived plans to build 500 new homes for Jewish settlers in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, after Trump won the US presidential election.

Under Netanyahu's government, settlement construction has surged with some 15,000 settlers moving into the West Bank over the past year alone.

Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, described the proposed measure as the "peak of hypocrisy," arguing that it will "only reward the Palestinian policy of incitement and terror".

The US joined the European Union, the UN and Russia in calling for a halt to Jewish settlements in a report released in October by the so-called diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East.

The report was to serve as the basis for reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been comatose since a US initiative collapsed in April 2014.