Israeli-Palestinian showdown at UN averted after U.S. mediation
The Palestinian Authority agreed to suspend its efforts to push for a UN Security Council vote on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank after U.S. pressure and mediation, Israeli and U.S. officials said.
Why it matters: It's a diplomatic achievement for the Biden administration, which was trying to avoid a situation in which it had to decide whether to use its veto to support Israel, which it has repeatedly done in the past.
- Officials have said the U.S. was also concerned that a showdown at the UN — even if it ended with a veto — would have led to further escalation between the Israelis and Palestinians ahead of the historically sensitive period of Passover and the holy month of Ramadan.
Catch up quick: The Palestinians were pushing for a vote on a resolution condemning Israeli settlements after Israel announced the legalization of nine outposts in the West Bank and approved the planning and building of 10,000 new housing units in existing settlements.
- The Biden administration opposes any unilateral moves by Israel, including settlement expansion, that would hurt efforts to negotiate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Much of the international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal under international law.
Driving the news: According to the understandings reached over the weekend, the Palestinians will put their efforts to bring the resolution to a vote on hold, Israeli officials said. In return, the U.S. will support a presidential statement by the UN Security Council that denounces Israeli settlements, the officials added.
- A presidential statement is a downgraded product and mostly symbolic, but it will be the first time in nine years that the U.S. will support such a statement on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As part of the understandings, Israel agreed to temporarily suspend unilateral actions in the West Bank, including new announcements on settlement building for several months, according to Israeli officials.
- Israel also agreed to suspend the demolitions of Palestinian homes and Palestinian evictions for a few months. It agreed to decrease the number of Israeli military raids in Palestinian cities, the officials said.
- According to a source briefed on the understandings, Israel agreed to several economic steps that will increase Palestinian tax revenues by more than $60 million a year.
The U.S. committed to inviting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a meeting with President Biden at the White House during the upcoming year.
- The U.S. also committed to giving Israel an official request to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.
The Palestinians agreed to start implementing the security plan put forward by the U.S. security coordinator Lt. Gen. Michael Fenzel to restore Palestinian Authority control in the West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus.
- The Palestinians agreed to start talks on resuming security coordination with Israel which was suspended several weeks ago.
An official in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office pushed back on the characterization of the deal. "There are no understandings. We finished all the building plans last week and had no intention of convening the committee to approve new ones in the next three months anyway," the official said.
- Palestinian officials declined to comment.
Behind the scenes: Secretary of State Antony Blinken started working on a solution last week when he met in Washington with the Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed (ABZ), sources with direct knowledge of the issue said.
- The UAE, as the Arab representative on the UN Security Council, circulated the draft resolution to the members of the council. The Emiratis also have close relations with the Israelis.
- Blinken continued working on the deal over the weekend while he was at the Munich Security Conference, U.S. officials said.
- Blinken spoke on the phone with ABZ over the weekend and asked for more time to work out a deal before the UAE moved forward with the resolution in New York, a source with direct knowledge of the issue said.
- On Saturday, Blinken spoke to both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A State Department official said Blinken put concrete ideas and proposals on the table during these phone calls. The official added that other U.S. officials did the same, speaking constantly to Israeli, Palestinians and other regional partners.
- “We’ll let the parties speak to the details of any arrangements, but the Secretary has been intensely focused on this," the official said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.