Egypt Delays UNSC Vote on Contentious Israel Resolution After Trump Voices Opposition

By Patrick Goodenough | December 22, 2016 | 10:55pm EST
The U.N. Security Council meets in New York City on December 19, 2016. (U.N. Photo/Amanda Voisard)

( – In an unusual turn of events, Egypt on Thursday abruptly delayed its plan to call for a vote on a U.N. Security Council resolution critical of Israel, after President-elect Donald Trump tweeted his opposition to the measure.

The unexpected development sparked a flurry of conjecture, with unnamed officials and diplomatic “sources” claiming variously that Israel had put pressure on Egypt not to proceed, or that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had been reluctant to antagonize Trump.

Some suggested that Israeli officials had reached out to Trump, and Reuters quoted an Egyptian presidency official as saying Trump and Sisi had spoken by phone.

Whatever the case, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said that Israel “deeply appreciates the clear and unequivocal call” by Trump for the resolution to be vetoed.

“Israel also deeply appreciates the many members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, who have called for a veto,” Dermer said.

It was unclear how long the postponement would last. A spokesman for Egypt’s foreign minister told Sky News Arabia later that consultations were continuing, suggesting that the matter was in the hands of the Arab League.  Egypt is the Arab group’s current representative on the 15-member Security Council.

The draft resolution demands an end to Israeli construction activity in “settlements” – communities located in areas claimed by the Palestinians for a future independent state. Under the Oslo accords the future of the settlements was one of the thorny issues left to be negotiated as part of a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. policy is that the communities are “illegitimate.”  The draft resolution, like numerous other U.N. documents, calls them “illegal.”

The Obama administration has only once used its Security Council veto, in 2011, when it voted down a resolution similar to the one now being considered.

But amid growing speculation that the administration may this time abstain – thus allowing the resolution to pass – Trump said in the statement early Thursday morning that it “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,” he said. “This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.”

At a daily briefing State Department spokesman John Kirby parried questions about how the U.S. may have voted had Egypt not postponed the move, saying the administration does not “preview our view in advance of votes inside the U.N. Security Council.”

Secretary of State John Kerry had been due to deliver remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in conjunction with the vote which was originally scheduled for 3 PM.  When the vote was delayed, so was his address.

“The secretary was preparing to deliver some remarks today about a vision for the Middle East and certainly the Middle East peace process itself,” Kirby explained. “And he decided that, in light of the postponement of the vote, that it would be prudent for him to postpone his remarks as well.”

He said he would not preview the remarks, but indicated that they may be delivered at some future point.

Kirby also said Kerry had spoken in the last day or two with his Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi counterparts.

Kerry had also spoken earlier Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he confirmed.

Overnight Wednesday, Netanyahu expressed his expectation in a Twitter posting that the U.S. would veto the resolution.

In a statement Thursday – before the vote was called off – Netanyahu said, “Israelis deeply appreciate one of the great pillars of the U.S.-Israel alliance: the willingness over many years of the U.S. to stand up in the U.N. and veto anti-Israel resolutions.”

“I hope the U.S. won’t abandon this policy,” he said. “I hope it will abide by the principles set by President Obama himself in his speech in the UN in 2011: That peace will come not through U.N. resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties.”

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