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Egypt postpones controversial UN vote on Israeli settlements

December 22, 2016

Egyptian President el-Sissi has bowed to pressure from Israel to delay a vote on the measure in the Security Council. The move came as US President Barack Obama weighed whether or not to block the resolution.

UN Sicherheitsrat in New York zur Lage in Syrien, Aleppo
Image: Getty Images/D. Angerer

Facing pressure from Israel, Egypt indefinitely postponed a United Nations Security Council vote to condemn the building of settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Israel was forced to turn to its reticent allies in Cairo as it remained unclear whether longtime ally the United States would veto the measure.

As a permanent member of the Security Council, the US has routinely axed such resolutions. But President Barack Obama has reportedly been mulling if they should let the measure through after years of aborted peace efforts. Despite the history of friendly relations between the two countries, the US has long considered the settlements as a hurdle to a lasting peace process, and allowing the resolution to pass would have been an opportunity to take a stronger stance.

"Peace will come not through UN resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, imploring the US to exercise its veto power.

US President-elect Donald Trump had also called on Obama to nix the resolution, saying "this puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis."

Egypt defies other Arab nations

Obama was spared the decision, however, when Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi called on his country's UN contingent to put off the vote. In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to make peace with the Israeli government. Egypt is now one of the 10 rotating members of the Security Council, and on Wednesday el-Sissi reportedly bowed to Jerusalem's request to put a stop to the vote, despite calls from other Arab states not to acquiesce.

According to a statement from el-Sissi's office, the draft resolution was also discussed in a phone call between Trump and the Egyptian president.

"The two leaders agreed on the importance of giving the new administration a chance to deal comprehensively with all the aspects of the Palestinian cause to achieve a comprehensive settlement," the statement said.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are largely considered illegal by the international community, as Israel has occupied these areas set aside for a Palestinian state since the 1967 Six-Day War.

Settlement construction has skyrocketed since Netanyahu took office in 2009, with 15,000 Israeli Jewish settlers moving into homes on the West Bank in 2016 alone.

es/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)