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George Baumgarten

 
Inside the United Nations: The Full Story of the U.S. Abstention in the Security Council

By George Baumgarten, U. N. Correspondent., posted January 1 2017

 

     In a break with all recent practice at the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power Friday merely abstained on a U.N. Security Council Resolution critical of Israel’s so-called “settlements’. Thus the Resolution—for which the other 14 Council members voted—was allowed to pass. This was in contrast to a previous Resolution in February 2011—similar but not identical, and narrower in focus—which drew from then-Ambassador Susan Rice the only veto cast at the U.N. in the whole eight years of the Obama Administration.

 

 

     The issue had been “hanging fire” in the Security Council for quite some time. There was even talk of such an effort nearly three months ago, during the time of “General Debate”, in the first days of the 71st Session of the General Assembly in September. This was one of two “threats” hanging over Israel, the other being French efforts to convene some sort of Middle East Peace Conference in Paris, now said to be scheduled for January 15th.

 

     Then came the whole issue of what has come to be known as the “Regulation Bill” or “Legalization Bill”, which would retroactively legalize towns and “outposts” never previously approved by the Israeli authorities. In particular, it would apply to the outpost know as Amona, which has been ordered by the Courts to be evacuated by 25 December. This has been widely criticized—in Israel as well as abroad—as it was “established” on what is said to be privately-owned Palestinian land.

 

     The connection with this Bill is instructive, as it was cited by one or more speakers at Friday’s Security Council session. As such, the Bill may well have been—if certainly not the sole cause—at least a major impetus for the Resolution at this time. It provides certain protections for residents of communities “whose establishment the government was involved in” (This would appear to preclude so-called “outposts”.)

 

 

                                                             (1)

 

Amona, however, is such an “outpost”, and has been ordered to be evacuated. All this was conveniently ignored by the Security Council. At

this writing, the status of Amona is uncertain: As of 13 December, there appeared to have been a “deal” to evacuate the residents to one or two nearby locations (assumed not to be on private Palestinian land), but this does not necessarily seem to have been the very last word, as the case is still in the courts. Concurrently, the proposed Bill was the object of “concern” expressed by the U.N.’s High Commissioner of Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Raad al-Hussein. Prince Zeid, who has been High Commissioner for several years, is well known to this correspondent for nearly a decade. A member of Jordan’s Royal family, he is a reasoned, rational (even soft-spoken) professional diplomat.

    

     It was in the light of these events that the Resolution—which was said to have been “kicking around” the U.N. for some time—was formally introduced. Meanwhile, the Legalization Bill is going through the ponderous parliamentary process of readings, votes, re-readings, and re-votes, on its path to final passage or defeat.

 

     On Thursday, 22 December, the Permanent Mission of Malaysia held a luncheon reception, to mark the end of its two-year term as a Non-Permanent Member of the Security Council. As it happened, most of the major players in what would be the coming vote and drama were there, and this correspondent took the occasion to speak to them with regard to the issue. It should be noted that at that moment, the afternoon meeting of the Council had just been postponed, “until further notice”. So it was not known if the meeting would be held later that day, on Friday, after the Christmas holiday, or at all. I spoke personally to the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Ramon Oyarzun Marchesi of Spain. He was—at that point—as much in the dark as anyone, and just a trifle shell-shocked at the sudden postponement that had been thrust upon him.

 

 

 

                                                          (2)

 

     I had occasion to speak also with Ambassador Power of the U.S. While the [then-unknown] time of the Meeting was the important detail, the question of the hour was whether the U.S. would veto the Resolution or merely abstain…which would permit the Resolution to pass. I asked her if she could give me even a little hint of her intended action. She said simply “I can’t”.

 

     I also spoke to my host, Ambassador Ramlan Bin Ibrahim of Malaysia. He [not unexpectedly] made it very clear that he was behind the Resolution—whenever it might be put to a vote. And I pointedly asked Ambassador Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian “Observer”, whether he thought the U.S. would veto. He replied simply “I hope not”.

 

     At this point, some supposed background details emerged, of efforts by the Trump transition team to dissuade the Egyptians (who had been sponsors of the Resolution) to withdraw it. Trump—so the story went—had “leaned” on President al-Sisi of Egypt, and persuaded him to withdraw the Resolution. This reporter has been unable (despite repeated reports to that effect) to verify these exact details with the Transition office, but did obtain the very brief statement issued by them and datelined from Palm Beach:

 

     “The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council

     regarding Israel should be vetoed.

    

     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.

 

   This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely     

   unfair to all Israelis”.

 

     And so it stood, as of late afternoon on Thursday, 22 December. It appeared that Israel had dodged a bullet and been saved—possibly permanently, or at least until after the weekend. One Israeli source, quoted in the Times of Israel, even went so far as to say that “T

 
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