United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The UN Security Council votes Friday on demanding Israel halt settlements, a measure which could see the United States take the rare step of refraining from wielding its veto to protect its closest Mideast ally.
The vote was scheduled for 2 pm (1900 GMT) at the request of four countries - New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela -- who stepped in to push for action after Egypt put the draft resolution on hold.
Egypt had circulated the measure to the council late Wednesday and requested a vote the following day, but backtracked just hours before that meeting.
The delay was decided during a phone call between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and US President-elect Donald Trump, the presidency in Cairo confirmed.
Israel had asked Trump to intervene after learning that Washington, in a reversal of its policy under President Barack Obama, would not veto the resolution, an Israeli official said.
Obama's outgoing US administration is behind the push for the vote, an Israeli official said, calling it an "abandonment" of the Jewish state.
The Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were "behind this shameful move against Israel at the UN".
"This is an abandonment of Israel which breaks decades of US policy of protecting Israel at the UN and undermines the prospects of working with the next administration of advancing peace," he said.
- 30 vetoes -
The United States vetoed a similar resolution in 2011, which was the sole veto cast by the Obama administration at the Security Council, but there had been expectations of a shift in stance from Washington.
Obama's administration has expressed mounting anger over the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, and speculation has grown that he could launch another initiative before leaving office next month.
Washington has used its veto 30 times to block council resolutions concerning Israel and the Palestinians, according to Security Council Report, a research organization.
It last abstained in 2009 on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Washington to block the draft, pointing to years of US willingness "to stand up in the UN and veto anti-Israel resolutions."
Israeli settlements are seen as a major stumbling block to peace efforts, as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
The United Nations maintains that settlements are illegal, but UN officials have reported a surge in construction over the past months.
- Cease all settlement activities -
The draft resolution demands that "Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem."
It states that Israeli settlements have "no legal validity" and are "dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution" that would see an independent Palestine co-exist alongside Israel.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre stressed that the draft resolution "does not exclusively focus on settlements. It also condemns the violence and terrorism. It also calls to prevent all incitement from the Palestinian side so this is a balanced text."
"The key goal that we have here is to preserve and reaffirm the two state-solution," said Delattre.
Trump, who campaigned on a promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, had bluntly said Washington should use its veto to block the resolution.
"The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed," he said in a statement on Thursday.
"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."
Trump has chosen as ambassador to Israel the hardliner David Friedman, who has said Washington will not pressure Israel to curtail settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
The Middle East peace process has been comatose since a US initiative to re-launch peace talks collapsed in April 2014.
France has announced plans to host an international conference on January 15 to try to restart talks based on the two-state solution.