Abbas sees 14 countries’ vote in UNSC against Israel’s settlements as “victory”

U.S. veto against draft to condemn Israeli settlements denounced

New ideas for Fatah-Hamas reconciliation

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that Palestinian interests were more important than US pressure, after the US vetoed a UN anti-settlement resolution.

Abbas said the vote was still a victory for Palestinian diplomacy, noting that the other 14 member states of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution condemning illegal settlement building.

It was the first time US President Barack Obama used the US veto since taking office. Abbas ignored a last-minute personal appeal from Obama to pursue the resolution.

Meeting with Palestinian academics at his Ramallah headquarters, the president said the Palestinian Authority would not boycott the US administration over the incident.

"It is not in our best interests to boycott anyone. We want to restore our interests and legitimate rights under international law," he said.

The decision to go to the Security Council was reached with the consensus of all factions three months ago, Abbas said.

It was discussed with all parties concerned, and the international community supported the motion, the president said. But the US expressed reservations and urged the Palestinians not to pursue the resolution, he added.

Human Rights Watch said that the US veto of the proposed resolution undermined enforcement of international law.

The Geneva Conventions, to which Israel is a party, prohibit the transfer of a country's civilian population into territory it occupies, Human Rights Watch reiterated in a statement shortly after the Security Council vote.

Yasser Abd Rabbo, general secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization said that Palestinian leaders had decided to take a fresh bid before the UN General Assembly, which convenes in New York in September.

"Our decision now is to go to the General Assembly of the United Nations to pass a UN resolution against the settlements and condemn them and to emphasize its lack of legitimacy," he told AFP.

Peace talks ground to a halt weeks after they were launched in Washington in September over Israel's refusal to extend a partial freeze on settlement building.

Israel's settlements are considered illegitimate by the international community, including the US.

The Palestinian leadership doesn't want to boycott the United States, which vetoed a draft to the UN condemning Jewish settlement activities in the occupied territories, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said.

"It is not for our interest to boycott the U.S. administration, " Abbas said during a meeting with Palestinian academics in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The veto was used against the Arab-endorsed draft resolution at the UN Security Council. The Palestinians wanted an international condemnation of the settlement building which caused U.S.-brokered peace negotiations to suspend in September.

Abbas said the Palestinians had been preparing for the resolution since Israel resumed building settlements in the West Bank in September.

He said he had rejected intensive pressure from Washington to stop going to the UN to resolve the settlement issue. Over the past two days, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked with Abbas via phone, but he insisted going ahead with the proposed resolution.

"The Palestinian diplomacy achieved a real victory" after 14 members of the Security Council voted for the resolution before the U.S. envoy used the veto, Abbas noted.

The Obama administration vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement building in occupied territory as illegal, choosing not to alienate Israel and risking the anger of Arabs.

The lopsided vote in the Council, where among the 15 members only the United States voted no, as well as the more than 100 co-sponsors of the measure, underscored the isolation of the United States and Israel on the issue.

But the American ambassador, Susan E. rice, said the veto should not be Susan E. Rice, said the veto should not misconstrued as American support for further settlement construction, which the United States opposes. The issue should be resolved through peace negotiations, she said, and not mandated by a binding resolution.

Brazil’s ambassador, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, who holds the Council’s rotating presidency this month, summed up the mood of the body by saying not only that settlements were an obstacle to peace, but also that adopting the resolution, which called for an immediate halt to further construction, would have “sent some key urgent messages.”

Among the messages, she said, were that further settlement construction threatens peace in the region, and that halting construction has been misrepresented as an Israeli concession while in fact international law requires it.

The Obama administration had tried to halt Israel’s settlement building, and failed, but Ms. Rice said the Security Council was not the place to try to halt it, either.

“Will it move the parties closer to negotiations and an agreement?” Ms. Rice said of the resolution. “Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the position of both sides.”

Ambassador Meron Reuben of Israel said settlements had to be negotiated directly between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He also questioned whether the Council should be discussing the issue now given that the political changes sweeping the Middle East seem more important.

The Palestinians suspended peace negotiations last fall, after Israel refused to extend a moratorium on West Bank settlement construction. The Palestinians say they will not rejoin the talks without a settlement freeze; Israel has refused, despite pressure from President Obama’s administration, and insists on negotiations without preconditions.

The Lebanese ambassador, Nawaf Salam, who introduced the resolution, said the fact that settlements were continuing at an accelerating clip made it imperative for the United Nations to address the issue.

“The main objective of this institution is to uphold international law,” Salam told reporters. “That is why we came to the Security Council, and that is why we will continue to come back to the Security Council.”

The European Union also supported the resolution, saying that continued settlement building threatened the realization of the two-state solution that had been a goal of the peace process for years.

The widespread eruptions of antigovernment protests in the Middle East have focused on domestic issues and have not been tinged with anti-American sentiment. The Obama administration said it hoped that the veto, which it has as one of the Council’s five permanent members, would not change that public sentiment.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, said the United States expected that the protesters knew that Washington supported their aspirations and opposed the use of violence against them.

In Ramallah, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a Palestinian Authority spokesman, said the American veto would only add complications and “encourage Israel to continue with its settlement activity and dodge from its obligations.”

The administration had hoped to work out a compromise with the Palestinians to avoid using the veto, but a lengthy telephone call from Obama to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, failed to persuade Abbas to call off the vote.

The Palestinian Authority has been under pressure from its constituents to take a harder public line on negotiations since documents leaked recently that showed that it was prepared to make major concessions in negotiations with Israel.

Meanwhile, Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers shrugged off calls for reconciliation with Fatah, saying its secular rival must prove its seriousness by freeing prisoners.

“These declarations lack seriousness and credibility, they make no sense in light of the continued arrests and torture (of Hamas members) in Fatah prisons in the West Bank,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, in response to an appeal by Fatah for the two factions to start talking.

“The only real way towards reconciliation is to stop the arrests, free the detainees and allow the movement’s charities to start helping the Palestinian people again,” he said.

Hamas and Fatah are bitter opponents which have carried out periodic arrests of each other’s members, often holding detainees without charge or trial and routinely trading allegations of prisoner abuse.

“The formation of a national unity government can only be achieved in the context of an all-encompassing national solution and not a partial one,” he said, referring to calls for the establishment of a coalition which would rule until parliamentary elections can be held at some point before September.

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said the group was looking at a new interpretation of reconciliation - one which would ensure a partnership with all the political factions.

“Hamas is involved in talks with the national factions to build a vision of national reconciliation on a new basis of preserving the national constants, far from the meaningless concessions and pressure from the American administration and the Zionist enemy,” he said in a statement.

Their comments were made a day after a senior Fatah member called for the two movements to reconcile their differences.

“In the national interest, the Fatah movement underlines the need to respond to the demands of the Palestinian people to put an end to the division with a view to ending the occupation,” Azzam al-Ahmad had said.

“We are ready to meet the Hamas leadership so that the Egyptian document can be signed,” he added, referring to a Cairo-brokered deal which was endorsed by Fatah but rejected by the Islamists.

The rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, which dates back to the early 1990s, soured dramatically after the Islamist movement won elections in 2006 and, a year later, seized control of Gaza after deadly street fighting with Fatah.

Since then, the Palestinian territories have been effectively split in two, with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority confined to the West Bank and Hamas ruling Gaza.

Repeated attempts at getting the two parties to reconcile their differences have led nowhere, and the 30-year-long reign of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, which played a key role in reconciliation efforts, is now firmly out of the picture.