On February 18, the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. The vote raises a question: Who dominates in the alliance between America and Israel?

Judging from the extent to which one partner defies the will of the other, decade after decade, the world’s only superpower is the weaker partner. When push comes to shove, American presidents tend to bow to Israeli wishes. Barack Obama is no exception, or he would not have instructed his ambassador at the United Nations to vote against a policy he himself stated clearly in the summer of 2009.

“The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop,” he said in a much-lauded speech in Cairo.

Compare this with the text of the resolution that drew 14 votes in favor and died with the U.S. veto: “Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”

Linguists may quibble over the difference between “illegal” and “illegitimate” but the substance of the two statements is pretty much the same. So why the veto? It followed an energetic campaign by the Israeli government and its allies in the United States to keep the issue out of the United Nations, seen by Israel as a reflexively anti-Israeli body.