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United Nations Demands End to Israel Settlement Building; U.S. Abstains

Israel and President-elect Trump had called on the United States to veto the measure.
In this photo provided by the United Nations, members of the United Nations Security council vote at the United Nations headquarters on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016, in favor of condemning Israel for its practice of establishing settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. In a striking rupture with past practice, the U.S. allowed the vote, not exercising its veto.Manuel Elias / The United Nations via AP

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution Friday demanding Israel stop settlement construction on occupied Palestinian territory after the United States broke with tradition and abstained from voting on the controversial measure.

The resolution was put forward at the 15-member council for a vote by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal a day after Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and President-elect Donald Trump.

The President-elect and the Israelis had called on the US to veto the measure.

It was adopted with 14 votes in favor, to a round of applause. It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.

The lack of U.S. involvement in the vote represents a sharp break with tradition of protecting Israel from UN action. It was seen as a last-ditch attempt by the council to put the brakes on settlement building and get the Israelis and Palestinians talking again before Trump's inauguration.

The President-elect has indicated he will not pressure Israel to participate in talks with the Palestinians.

"As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th," Trump tweeted following the resolution's passage.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ripped the resolution and said his country "will not abide by its terms."

"At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half a million people in Syria, it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East," he said.

Netanyahu, whose relationship with President Obama has long been strained, accused the White House of colluding with the UN "behind the scenes."

"Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution," he said.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. "acted with one primary objective in mind: to preserve the possibility of the two state solution."

"That future is now in jeopardy, with terrorism, violence and incitement continuing and unprecedented steps to expand settlements being advanced by avowed opponents of the two state solution," he said. "That is why we cannot in good conscience stand in the way of a resolution at the United Nations that makes clear that both sides must act now to preserve the possibility of peace."

Kerry also reminded critics of the Obama Administration's "unparalleled record of support for Israel's security, including the largest military assistance package in history."

GOP lawmakers vehemently disagreed.

Republican Sen. John McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the resolution "ill-conceived."

"The abstention of the United States has made us complicit in this outrageous attack, and marks a troubling departure from our nation's long, bipartisan history of defending our ally Israel in the United Nations," he said in a statement. "This resolution will serve as yet another roadblock to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and embolden the enemies of Israel."

House Speaker Paul Ryan called the move "absolutely shameful."

"Today's vote is a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel. Our unified Republican government will work to reverse the damage done by this administration, and rebuild our alliance with Israel," he said.

The bipartisan American Israel Public Affairs Committee said it too was "deeply disturbed" that the Obama Administration didn't veto the resolution.

"By adopting this resolution, the United Nations has once again served as an open forum to isolate and delegitimize Israel—America’s lone stable, democratic ally in the Middle East," the organization said.

The Obama administration has been critical of Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. But U.S. officials said earlier this month that Obama wasn't expected to make any major overtures toward Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts before leaving office.