The UN Security Council has passed a resolution demanding an end to illegal Israeli settlements in a vote in which the United States abstained, but did not veto. The motion, proposed by Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela, was passed with 14 votes in favour and one abstention and has sparked a diplomatic row between former allies Israel and the US.
The vote, which was met by cheers from the room, comes after the Obama administration did not veto the resolution – something America has done in the past at the UN. President-elect Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had urged the US to veto earlier this week.
The Obama administration's decision not to veto will be seen as breaking an American tradition of backing Israel at the UN. But recent disagreements between the outgoing American President and Netanyahu over the illegal settlements has soured relations between the former allies.
The resolution demands that Israel: "immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem" and said the establishment of settlements by Israel has "no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law."
After the vote, on Friday 23 December, Minister Yuval Steinitz said according to Haaretz, who quoted Ch. 2 News: "The United States abandoned Israel, its only ally in the Middle East. The heart aches that after eight years of friendship... and cooperation with Obama, this is his final chord" before he leaves office.
But the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said the resolution reflected the "facts on the ground" the number of settlements had been increasing.
"The settlement problem has gotten so much worse that it is threatening the two-state solution," she said.
According to the BBC, she criticised Netanyahu's support for settlement expansion, saying: "One cannot simultaneously champion expanding settlements and champion a two-state solution that would end the conflict."
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters after the vote that the decision was a "victory for international law".
The resolution was originally drafted by Egypt, but the African nation withdrew after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke with President-elect Trump who had been urged by Israel to intervene.
Before the vote an Israeli official was quoted by the Associated Press (AP) news agency, as saying: "President Obama and Secretary [of State John] Kerry are behind this shameful move against Israel at the UN.
"The US administration secretly cooked up with the Palestinians an extreme anti-Israeli resolution behind Israel's back which would be a tail-wind for terror and boycotts and effectively make the Western Wall [in Jerusalem] occupied Palestinian territory.
"President Obama could declare his willingness to veto this resolution in an instant but instead is pushing it."
The issue of Jewish settlements is major barrier to peace in the region, with an estimated 500,000 Jews living in 140 settlements all built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
Earlier this year Obama condemned his Israeli counterpart for going ahead with a plan to build 98 new homes in a northern West Bank settlement which sits on occupied Palestinian land. "There is a disappointment and great concern here at the White House," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest afterwards.