U.S. vetoes U.N. draft condemning Israeli settlements

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States on Friday vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory after the Palestinians refused to withdraw the Arab-drafted text.

The other 14 council members voted in favor of the draft resolution. But the United States, as one of the five permanent council members with the power to block any action by the Security Council, voted against it and struck it down.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told council members that the veto “should not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity.” She added that the U.S. view is that Israeli settlements lack legitimacy.

But she said the draft “risks hardening the position of both sides” and reiterated the U.S. position that settlements and other contentious issues should be resolved in direct peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, speaking on behalf of Britain, France and Germany, condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank. “They are illegal under international law,” he said.

He added that the European Union’s three biggest nations hope that an independent state of Palestine will join the United Nations as a new member state by September 2011.

The Palestinian Authority earlier on Friday decided to insist that the resolution be put to the council, and rejected an offer from the United States of a council statement containing weaker language on settlements.

Since 2000, 14 Security Council resolutions have been vetoed by one or more of the five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

Of those, 10 were U.S. vetoes, nine of them related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The last U.S. vetoes were two in 2006, both related to Israel.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; editing by Will Dunham