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US House rejects anti-settlement UN resolution in symbolic vote

Congressional measure passes 342 to 80, with broad bipartisan support, saying UN resolution undermines US position
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to US Congress on 3 March 2015 (AFP)

The US House of Representatives voted on Thursday to condemn a UN resolution reprimanding Israel over its settlement activity, blasting last month's move by the international body as "an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace".

The congressional measure passed 342 to 80, with broad bipartisan support. It noted in particular that the US administration's refusal to veto the controversial Security Council measure "undermined" Washington's decades-long position of opposing anti-Israel action at the United Nations.

Incensed US lawmakers - and President-elect Donald Trump - have assailed President Barack Obama's outgoing administration for abstaining in the 23 December UN vote, essentially clearing the way for the resolution.

"I am stunned at what happened last month. This government - our government - abandoned our ally Israel when she needed us the most," House Speaker Paul Ryan told the chamber shortly before the House vote.

"It is time to repair the damage done by this misguided hit job at the UN," he added.

White House aides have said that while Obama is a firm supporter of Israel, he felt that after eight years he had simply run out of ways to convince Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel building on Palestinian land is sabotaging hopes for peace.

The House measure, which is non-binding, calls for the UN resolution "to be repealed or fundamentally altered so that... it is no longer one-sided and anti-Israel" and allows all final status issues toward a two-state solution to be resolved through direct bilateral negotiation.

It also demands that the US ensure that no action be taken at the 15 January Paris Conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would impose an agreement on the two sides.

The French-organised talks, to be attended by about 70 countries - but not by Israeli or Palestinian representatives - are being held to reiterate international support for a two-state solution to the conflict.

A similar bipartisan resolution was introduced in the US Senate, where Republican Ted Cruz on Thursday slammed Obama and his administration, saying the failure to veto the UN measure marked their attempt "to lash out... at Israel with their last breath in office".

Cruz said he will propose legislation designed to cut US funding to the UN unless the anti-Israel resolution is repealed or made more balanced.

But some congressional Democrats insisted the Capitol Hill vote had more to do with taking a final jab at Obama than condemning his administration's lack of action.

"It's subterfuge. This is about kicking a president on the way out, one more time," fumed House Democrat Gerry Connolly, who voted no on the resolution.

Supporters of the UN measure say Obama did not betray Israel but simply allowed a resolution that reiterates US traditional policy that considers settlements an obstacle to peace.

Despite Congress’s swiftness in passing the pro-Israeli resolution, some observers saw a shift in attitudes towards the conflict, particularly in the Democratic camp.

"Seventy-six Democrats voted against the AIPAC resolution on the house floor a moment ago. Well above the numbers that skipped Netanyahu's speech," Yousef Munayyer, director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, tweeted. 

Vice President-elect Mike Pence welcomed Congress's vote.

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