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Obama administration rejects Israel resolution, using U.N. veto for first time

The Obama administration on Friday cast its first ever veto in the U.N. Security Council, blocking a Palestinian backed draft resolution that denounced Israel's settlement policy as an illegal obstacle to peace efforts in the Middle East.

The U.S. vote killed off a resolution that enjoyed overwhelming backing at the United Nations, securing 14 votes in favor in the 15-nation council, and isolated the United States on a crucial Middle East matter at a time of political upheaval in the region.

U.S. ambassador Susan E. Rice said that the U.S. veto should not be seen as an endorsement of Israeli's settlement policies, which the Obama administration has repeatedly denounced. But she said the adoption of the resolution "risks hardening the positions of both sides" and undermining U.S. led efforts to pursue a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We reject in the strongest term the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity," Rice said after the vote. "For more than four decades, Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 has undermined Israel's security and corroded hopes for peace and security in the region. Continued settlement activity violates Israel international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects of peace."

The U.S. action brought an end to an urgent last minute diplomatic campaign, involving conversations between President Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to convince the Palestinians to drop their resolution in favor of a milder statement rebuking Israel for constructing new settlements in seized Arab lands.

It was the first time that the U.S. government has cast its veto in the Security since 2006, when the Bush Administration vetoed a resolution calling for a halt to Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.

The diplomatic dispute played out against a backdrop of deepening political crisis in the Arab world, as governments in Algeria, Bahrain and Libya have used force to put down protesters. The United States, which has sought to identify itself with the demonstrations aspirations for freedom, may see its standing bruised by the veto.

The defeated resolution reaffirmed that all Israeli settlements established since 1967 "are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace." It also demands that Israel "cease all settlement activities.

On Tuesday, the U.S. offered to support a presidential statement saying that Israel's ongoing settlement activities lacked legitimacy. The U.S. also pledged to consider undertaking the first visit by the U.N. Security Council to the Middle East since 1979, and including a strong language in a future Middle Quarter statement asserting that peace talks need to proceed on the basis of the 1967 borders.

The Palestinians rejected the compromise as inadequate. Efforts by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to convince the Palestinian leader to abandon the resolution and support a compromise failed.

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