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United Nations demands end to Israel settlement building; U.S. abstains

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Photo by NBC News. Photo by NBC News.

by ELIZABETH CHUCK and REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution Friday demanding Israel stop settlement construction on occupied Palestinian territory after the United States abstained from voting on the controversial measure.

The lack of U.S. involvement in the vote represents a sharp break with U.S. tradition to protect Israel from U.N. action. The resolution was put forward at the 15-member council for a vote by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal a day after Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and President-elect Donald Trump. Israel and Trump had called on the United States to veto the measure.

It was adopted with 14 votes in favor, to a round of applause. It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.

The resolution was seen as a last-ditch effort for council action on the Middle East before Trump's inauguration. Trump has indicated he will support Israel and will not pressure it to participate in talks with the Palestinians.

"As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th," Trump tweeted following the resolution's passage.

Political reaction to the resolution was swift — particularly from GOP lawmakers.

Republican Sen. John McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the resolution "ill-conceived."

"The abstention of the United States has made us complicit in this outrageous attack, and marks a troubling departure from our nation's long, bipartisan history of defending our ally Israel in the United Nations. This resolution will serve as yet another roadblock to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and embolden the enemies of Israel," he said in a statement.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said the move was "absolutely shameful."

"Today's vote is a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel. Our unified Republican government will work to reverse the damage done by this administration, and rebuild our alliance with Israel," he said.

The bipartisan American Israel Public Affairs Committee said it was "deeply disturbed" that the Obama administration didn't veto the resolution.

"By adopting this resolution, the United Nations has once again served as an open forum to isolate and delegitimize Israel—America's lone stable, democratic ally in the Middle East," the organization said.

The Obama administration has been critical of Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. But U.S. officials said earlier this month that Obama wasn't expected to make any major overtures toward Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts before leaving office.

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