|Since the start of the US-sponsored diplomatic process decades ago, settler numbers have quadrupled [GALLO/GETTY]
The US has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israeli settlements as "illegal" and called for an immediate halt to all settlement building. All 14 other council members voted in favour of the resolution.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, answers three crucial questions connected with the issue.
Why did the US veto the draft UN resolution condemning the Israeli settlements?
The Obama administration claims that, if passed, such a resolution would have hardened the position of both sides without advancing peace between Israelis and Palestinians and that the 'Peace Process', not the UN Security Council, is the venue to tackle such issues.
In reality, however, the parties' positions have already hardened because of the settlements' proliferation with total impunity.
In Israel, Jewish settlers today make up the hardcore base of its right-wing government (arguably the most extreme in its history). And for their part, the Palestinians have for the last two years rejected direct negotiations as long as settlement activity continued.
Moreover, settlements have been most damaging to the peace process, and its goal of a two states solution.
Since the start of this US-sponsored diplomatic process decades ago, the settlers have quadrupled in numbers from 75,000 to 300,000 scattered in about 200 settlements in the West Bank, and has doubled in cosmopolitan East Jerusalem, making it ever more improbable to separate Palestine from Israel, or establish a contiguous viable state.
Apart from the UN itself, Washington's other partners in the International Quartet -- the EU and Russia -- understand that all too well and hence decided to vote in favour of the draft resolution.
It's terribly embarrassing for the Obama administration that promised to integrate the US and improve its image around the world, to be seen to be so diplomatically isolated.
It's also humiliating not to be able to pressure Israel to freeze settlement activity and be forced to veto a resolution that was drafted in line with its own declarations.
But Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, says that Washington rejects the legitimacy of these settlements and supports the emergence of a Palestinian state, but that such a resolution would advance neither cause?
Declaring the settlements illegitimate but refusing to call them illegal, relieves Israel from possible sanctions and other international reaction, while at the same time, protecting the US, Israel's main ally and funder, from possible accusations of complicity.
In reality, settlements have led to terrible instability and further complicated the resolution of the conflict while destroying any hope for the two state solution in the process.
But the Obama administration finds itself all too often nowadays on the wrong side of history, embarrassingly supporting unpopular dictators and occupiers instead of people in their march to freedom.
Allowing Israeli colonisation of Palestine to go on unabated and with impunity in the age of de-colonisation doesn't bode well for wanting to be on the side of history.
To escape this uncomfortable position, the Obama administration has been using acrobatic statements and formulas to rewrite history in a way that portrays it supporting peoples' rights.
Does the US veto risk a backlash in the Arab world?
Washington's refusal to join the international community in affirming the applicability of international law in Palestine, could further alienate an Arab world already in turmoil.
In fact, it could add fuel to Arab anger and deepen disappointment at those crucial times.
But the Obama administration has been carefully balancing its options between angering Palestinians and Arabs or alienating Israel and pro-Israeli groups in the US.
Good to his reputation, the pragmatic president has opted for appeasing Israel and its friends.
When weighing in the costs and benefits of supporting such a resolution, the Obama administration seems to have concluded that angering Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, pales in comparison to angering Israeli premier Netanyahu and his allies in Washington and in Congress.
It's possible that Netanyahu will reciprocate by offering Obama a tactical compromise to ease the international pressure on both of their countries.
Whether this is in the US national interest or simply in the interests of politics as usual in Washington remains to be seen.
It's clear, however, that neither the Obama administration nor Congress have internalised the historical transformation sweeping through the Arab region.
Rather, it continues to deal with the Arabs and Palestinians with the same imperial mindset that long managed its relations with self-serving Arab dictators and clients, as if nothing has changed in the region.