Hours before it was due to take place, the UN Security Council on Thursday postponed a vote on a draft resolution demanding that Israel halt its settlement activities as president-elect Donald Trump weighed in and said the United States should veto the measure.
Egypt requested the delay to allow time for consultations, but no new time or date for the vote was scheduled. Diplomats suggested it could happen on Friday.
“Every member of the Security Council was ready to vote at 3pm,” a western diplomat told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity. “Egypt has delayed the vote following an intense Israeli lobbying campaign against them.”
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from the United Nations headquarters in New York, said: “We did speak to the president of the Security Council, the Spanish representative, who said that the decision to postpone the vote was deeply unfortunate.”
Hanna added that US diplomats did not comment as to whether they would have voted for the resolution.
Egypt circulated the draft late on Wednesday and a vote was initially scheduled for Thursday.
The move prompted immediate calls from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the US to use its veto power at the Security Council to block the resolution.
A similar resolution was vetoed by the US in 2011, and it remained unclear whether Washington would take a different approach this time, possibly abstaining to allow the measure to pass, but without US support.
Trump, who campaigned on a promise to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, said in a statement that Washington should use its veto to block the resolution.
“The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed,” the Republican said in a statement released hours ahead of the scheduled vote.
“As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations,” he said.
“This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis,” Trump added.
Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and seen as major stumbling block to peace efforts as they are built on Palestinian land occupied by Israel.
The UN maintains that the settlements are illegal, but UN officials have reported a surge in construction over the past months.
Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, areas Israel occupied in a 1967 war.
Israel disputes that settlements are illegal and says their final status should be determined in any future talks on Palestinian statehood.
Some in the Israeli government view Trump’s victory as an opportunity to expand settlements.
Trump has chosen as ambassador to Israel the hardliner and settlement-supporting David Friedman, a man who has said Washington will not pressure Israel to curtail settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
‘No legal validity’
The draft resolution demands “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”.
It states Israeli settlements have “no legal validity” and are “dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution”, which would see an independent state of Palestine co-exist alongside Israel.
The text stresses that halting settlements was “essential for salvaging the two-state solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground”.
UN diplomats have for weeks speculated as to whether the administration of President Barack Obama would decide to refrain from using its veto to defend its closest ally in the Middle East.
Obama’s administration has expressed mounting anger over Israeli settlement policy, and speculation has grown he could launch a final initiative before leaving.