UNITED NATIONS — The Obama administration on Friday cast its first-ever veto in the U.N. Security Council, blocking a Palestinian-backed draft resolution that denounced Israel's settlement policy as an illegal obstacle to peace efforts in the Middle East.
The U.S. vote killed off a resolution that enjoyed the backing of the 14 other members of the U.N. Security Council and isolated the United States on a crucial Middle East matter at a time of political upheaval in the region.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said that the U.S. veto should not be seen as an endorsement of Israel's settlement policies, which the Obama administration has repeatedly denounced. But she said adoption of the resolution "risks" undermining U.S.-led efforts to pursue a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
"We reject in the strongest term the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activities," Rice said after the vote. "For more than four decades Israel's settlement activities have undermined Israel's security and eroded hopes of peace and security in the region."
But she added, "Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides and could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations."
The U.S. action brought at end to an urgent last-minute diplomatic campaign, involving conversations between President Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to persuade the Palestinians to drop their resolution in favor of a milder statement rebuking Israel for constructing new settlements in seized Arab lands.
It was the first time that the U.S. government has cast its veto in the Security Council since 2006, when the Bush administration vetoed a resolution calling for a halt to Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.