MICHELE NORRIS, host:
For the first time since President Obama took office, the U.S. has exercised its veto power in the U.N. Security Council; it was to shield Israel from criticism. The U.S. blocked a resolution that would have declared Israeli settlements in occupied Arab territory illegal.
Palestinians and their backers went ahead with the vote, despite a lot of pressure from the U.S., as NPRs Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: The Obama administration tried to avoid being put in this position. President Obama called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton placed a follow-up call today, arguing the U.N. is not the place to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice made that same case as she voted no.
Ms. SUSAN RICE (Ambassador to the United Nations): It could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations and, if and when they did resume, to return to the Security Council whenever they reach and impasse.
KELEMEN: Dozens of countries co-sponsored the resolution and were represented in the room when the U.S. cast the only no vote. Lebanons ambassador argued that Israeli settlement activity has been speeding up, as are the demolitions of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.
Ambassador Rice tried to explain that the U.S. veto should not be misunderstood as support for such actions.
Ms. RICE: We reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. For more than four decades, Israeli settlement activity and territories occupied in 1967 has undermined Israel's security and corroded hopes for peace and stability in the region.
KELEMEN: The U.S. veto comes at a time when U.S. policy in the Middle East is under scrutiny, as protesters rise up against autocratic U.S. allies. Just this week, President Obama pointed out that the protests in Egypt were mainly about domestic issues, not about the U.S. or Israel. But with todays vote, that could quickly change.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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