Washington (Reuters): The United States intended to allow the UN Security Council to approve a resolution that would demand that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”, two Western officials said on Thursday, a major reversal of US practice, which prompted Israel to ask President-elect Donald Trump to apply pressure.
In a day of intense diplomatic wrangling on one of the thorniest Middle East conflicts, Egypt, which had proposed the draft resolution, abruptly put off a vote that had been scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Diplomats said Cairo had acted under pressure from Israel and to avoid alienating Trump, who spoke to the Egyptian president and urged the White House to use its veto.
By late Thursday, four Security Council members had given Egypt an ultimatum and threatened to put the draft resolution to a vote.
The two Western officials said President Barack Obama had intended to abstain from the vote, a relatively rare step by the United States to register criticism of the building on occupied land that Palestinians want for a state.
The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had an acrimonious relationship with Obama, believes the Obama administration had long planned the council vote in coordination with the Palestinians, the senior Israeli official said.
"It was a violation of a core commitment to protect Israel at the UN," the official said.
The White House had no immediate comment.
US officials have voiced growing fears that a "two-state" solution is imperiled by Israeli settlement building and have been more willing to voice open criticism, including, the two Western officials said, via Thursday's planned vote.
A US abstention would have been seen as a parting shot by Obama, who has made the settlements a major target of his - ultimately futile - peace efforts.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, which in 1979 became the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel, called Trump on Thursday, a Trump transition official said, saying they spoke broadly about laying the ground for Middle East peace.
Sisi's office said the two leaders spoke.
"The presidents agreed on the importance of affording the new US administration the full chance to deal with all dimensions of the Palestinian case with a view of achieving a full and final settlement," presidency spokesman Alaa Yousef said.
The resolution would demand Israel "immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem" and said the establishment of settlements by Israel has "no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law."
Egypt, currently a Security Council member, worked with the Palestinians to draft the text. The senior Israeli official said Israel remained concerned the resolution could still go ahead with another sponsoring country.
New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal asked Egypt to clarify by midnight whether it planned to call a vote.
"In the event that Egypt decides that it cannot proceed to call for vote on 23 December or does not provide a response by the deadline, those delegations reserve the right to table the draft ... and proceed to put it to vote ASAP," the four states wrote in a note, seen by Reuters.
They said "the proposal for other delegations to take the lead ... would also help Egypt by relieving it of the burden of carrying this draft alone." They plan to meet on Friday morning to decide how to proceed, diplomats said.