NEW YORK - Fourteen frustrated members of the UN Security Council pointed a finger at the US yesterday for blocking any condemnation of Israel's accelerated settlement construction in Palestinian territory.
In a move that Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin called historic, diplomats from almost all regional blocs represented on the council stepped to the microphone after closed council consultations on the Middle East to condemn the lack of progress towards a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mr Churkin, the council president, said the frustration over the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian talks spilled out in statements from the four European Union council members, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Arab group and the group of emerging powers that included India, Brazil and South Africa.
Clearly referring to the US, Mr Churkin said dismissively that one delegation believed things would miraculously sort themselves out on their own. "The call for bilateral negotiations without preconditions would seem a normal thing to ask for," he said.
But Mr Churkin said the Palestinians were overwhelmed militarily and in every other way by the Israelis and without preconditions they would not get a fair deal in negotiations.
The diplomats - including key US allies in Europe - also criticised the council's failure to take action against escalating violence by Israeli settlers and urged a speedy resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, also speaking for EU members France, Germany and Portugal, said: "Israel's security and the realisation of the Palestinians' right to statehood are not opposing goals. On the contrary, they are mutually reinforcing objectives. But they will not be achieved while settlement building and settler violence continues."
South Africa's UN ambassador Baso Sangqu said settler attacks against Palestinian civilians increased 50 per cent this year and called Israeli settlement construction "the main impediment for the two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict".
While the US was not mentioned by name, the diplomats' anger was clearly directed at Washington, which vetoed a resolution in February backed by the 14 other council members that would have demanded an immediate halt to all settlement building.
The Obama administration has also promised to veto any Security Council resolution supporting Palestine's bid to become the 194th member of the UN.
Earlier this week Germany responded with anger to Israel's decision to approve construction of more than 1000 housing units on land captured in the Six-Day War. A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Israeli announcement on Sunday was "a devastating message".
Ms Merkel has made no secret of her anger at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to advance the peace process and for his approval of Israeli housing construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In February, according to German sources, Mr Netanyahu telephoned Ms Merkel to express disappointment at Germany's support of a UN resolution condemning Israel for its construction in settlements, a resolution vetoed by the US.
"How dare you," Ms Merkel reportedly responded to Mr Netanyahu's criticism. "You're the one who disappointed us. You haven't made a single step to advance peace."
Israel is interested in German support because of Berlin's political weight in the international arena and its direct economic and military importance to Israel.
Additional reporting: Abraham Rabinovich