With Ukraine in mind, the US is desperate to avert the Middle East showdown at the UN

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is scrambling to avert a diplomatic crisis Israeli settlement activity this week at the United Nations, which threatens to overshadow and perhaps derail what the US hopes will be a solid five days of focus on condemning Russia’s war with Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken made two emergency calls from the Munich Security Conference he is attending on Saturday to avoid or prevent such a showdown. It remained unclear whether further last-minute intervention could salvage the situation, according to diplomats familiar with the ongoing discussions, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Without giving details, the State Department said in almost identical statements that Blinken spoke with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from Munich to “reveal US commitment to a negotiated two-state solution and rejection of a to reaffirm policies that endanger their viability.”

“The minister underscored the urgent need for Israelis and Palestinians to take steps to restore calm and our strong opposition to unilateral action that would further escalate tensions,” the statements read.

Neither statement mentioned the proposed UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate halt to Israeli settlements. The Palestinians want to bring this resolution to a vote on Monday. And neither statement gave any indication of how the calls ended.

But diplomats familiar with the talks said that in his call to Abbas, Blinken reiterated an offer to the Palestinians for a US package of stimulus to lure them into dropping, or at least delaying, the resolution.

Those incentives included a White House meeting for Abbas with President Joe Biden, a move to reopen the American consulate in Jerusalem and a significant aid package, the diplomats said.

Abbas is non-binding, the diplomats said, but also indicated he would not be accessible unless the Israelis agreed to a six-month freeze on settlement expansion on land the Palestinians claim for a future state.

Blinken then called Netanyahu, who, according to diplomats, made similar non-binding comments about the six-month settlement freeze. Netanyahu also reiterated Israeli opposition to reopening the consulate, which was closed during President Donald Trump’s tenure, they said.

The US and others hoped to break Sunday’s deadlock, but diplomats said it was unclear if that would be possible.

The drama came just before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which will be the subject of special sessions of the UN General Assembly and Security Council on Thursday and Friday.

The US opposes the Palestinian resolution and will almost certainly veto it. Not using a veto would pose significant domestic risk for Biden on the cusp of the 2024 presidential campaign, and Republicans in the Top House of Representatives have already warned against it.

But the government also fears that using its veto to protect Israel risks losing the World Organization’s support for measures condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Frantic but unsuccessful diplomacy has already been engaged in by senior officials at the White House, State Department and US Mission to the United Nations in an attempt to persuade the Palestinians to back down. The dire nature of the situation prompted Blinken’s calls on Saturday, the diplomats said.

The Biden administration has already publicly stated that it does not support the resolution, calling it “unhelpful.” recent Israeli settlement expansion announcements.

UN diplomats say the US wants to replace the Palestinian resolution, which would be legally binding, with a weaker presidential statement, or at least postpone a vote on the resolution until after the anniversary of the Ukraine war.

The Palestinian push comes as Israel’s new right-wing government does reiterated his commitment to building new settlements in the West Bank and expanding their authority on the land the Palestinians aspire to as a future state.

Israel conquered the West Bank along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East War. The United Nations and most of the international community view Israeli settlements as illegal and an obstacle to ending the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Around 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, which is annexed by Israel.

Ultranationalists opposed to Palestinian statehood form a majority in Israel’s new government, which has made settlements a top priority.

The draft resolution, circulated by the United Arab Emirates, the Arab representative on the Council, would reaffirm the Security Council’s “unwavering commitment” to a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine peacefully live side by side as democratic states life.

It would also reaffirm the UN Charter’s provision against the acquisition of territory by force and affirm that such acquisition is illegal.

Last Tuesday, Blinken and top diplomats from Britain, France, Germany and Italy condemned Israel’s plans to build 10,000 new homes in existing West Bank settlements and retroactively legalize nine outposts. Netanyahu’s cabinet had announced the measure two days earlier after a surge in violence in Jerusalem.

In December 2016, the Security Council called on Israel to “immediately and completely halt all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.” It stressed that the cessation of settlement activity was “essential to salvaging the two-state solution.”

That resolution was passed after President Barack Obama’s administration abstained on the vote, a reversal of the United States’ long-standing practice of protecting its close ally Israel from action at the United Nations, including by vetoing Arab-backed ones resolutions.

The draft resolution now before the Council is much shorter than the 2016 document, although it reiterates its key points and much of what the US and Europeans said last week.

Complicating matters for the US, the Security Council resolution was introduced and is backed by the UAE, an Arab partner of the United States, which has also normalized relations with Israel, albeit taking a lukewarm stance on Russia’s attack on Ukraine takes.

The US will expect the UAE and other Palestinian-sympathetic Council members to vote for resolutions condemning Russia for invading Ukraine and calling for a cessation of hostilities and the immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces.


Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2023/02/19/ukraine-in-mind-us-frantic-to-avert-mideast-showdown-at-un/ With Ukraine in mind, the US is desperate to avert the Middle East showdown at the UN

Sarah Y. Kim

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