The Security Council rejected a Palestinian resolution demanding an end to Israeli occupation within three years late Tuesday, a blow to an Arab campaign to get the UN's most powerful body to take action to achieve an independent state of Palestine.
The United States, Israel's closest ally, had made clear its opposition to the draft resolution, insisting on a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, not an imposed timetable. It would have used its veto if necessary but it didn't have to because the resolution failed to get the minimum nine "yes" votes required for adoption by the 15-member council.
The resolution received eight "yes" votes, two "no" votes — one from the United States and the other from Australia — and five abstentions.
"We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo. We voted against it because ... peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table," US Ambassador Samantha Power said.
She criticized the decision to bring the draft resolution to a vote as a "staged confrontation that will not bring the parties closer." She added that the resolution was "deeply unbalanced" and didn't take into account Israel's security concerns.
"Our effort was a serious effort, genuine effort, to open the door for peace," said Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador. "Unfortunately, the Security Council is not ready to listen to that message."
Until shortly before the vote, council diplomats had expected the resolution to get nine "yes" votes. But Nigeria, which was believed to support the resolution, abstained. Its ambassador, U. Joy Ogwu, echoed the US position saying the ultimate path to peace lies "in a negotiated solution."
The Palestinians, nonetheless, could point to support from two European nations, France and Luxembourg, reflecting the growing impatience especially in Europe over the lack of progress in achieving a two-state solution, and the increasing pressure on governments to do something to end the decades-old conflict.
This impatience, and frustration over the Security Council's paralysis in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was echoed by many on the council, including the United States.
Jordan's UN Ambassador Dina Kawar, the Arab representative on the council, said after the vote: "The fact that this draft resolution was not adopted will not at all prevent us from proceeding to push the international community, specifically the United Nations, towards an effective involvement to achieving a resolution to this conflict."
Mansour said Palestinian leaders will be meeting Wednesday "and will decide on next steps."
Before the vote, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the Palestinians can return again to the Security Council, which will have five new members starting Thursday who are viewed as more sympathetic to their cause.
If the council says "no" again, he said, the Palestinians will seek to join the International Criminal Court. They could then press charges against Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
France had put forward a draft resolution setting the outlines for a peace agreement and setting a two-year deadline for negotiations — and French Ambassador Francois Delattre told the council he will be pursuing council action to resolve the conflict.
Israel's image and its standing, especially in Europe, have come under increasing pressure as a result of this summer's Israeli offensive on Gaza and its refusal to halt settlement building.
Israel Nitzan, the Middle East adviser at Israel's UN Mission, delivered a brief message to the Palestinians after the vote: "You cannot agitate ... your way to a state."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas found himself under pressure at home to proceed with a UN vote and to take other measures after months of unrest with Israel. Pressure increased earlier this month after a Palestinian minister died from a heart attack after scuffling with Israeli security forces in the West Bank at a protest against settlements.
That incident came after months of tensions that included the collapse of the latest round of US-backed peace talks, a 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza, Israeli security measures that restricted Muslim access to a revered holy site in Jerusalem and a spate of Palestinian attacks that killed 11 people.
The violence seems to have mostly subsided in recent weeks but attacks persist.
Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, a strong supporter of the resolution, took issue with the US and others who said it undermined prospects for negotiations.
"We believe this to be a strategic mistake," Churkin said, "just as casting off our proposals to do brainstorming in the council in order to determine ways to reinvigorate the negotiating process, including sending to the Middle East a council mission."
*This story was edited by Ahram Online.