Defying heavy pressure, the US on Saturday allowed the UN Security Council to pass a resolution demanding Israel to halt settlements in Palestinian territory as it abstained from wielding its veto in the powerful world body.

The 15-nation Council on Friday adopted the resolution by a vote of 14 in favour and with one abstention from the US.

In a rare step, the United States instead abstained, enabling the adoption of the first UN resolution since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy.

The resolution had been put forward by Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela.

In the resolution, the Council reiterated its demand that Israel "immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard".

As the resolution, which had more symbolic value and is unlikely to change the situation on ground between Israel and Palestine, was adopted, the Council broke into a huge round of applause as envoys of the permanent and non-permanent members lauded the decision.

The adoption of the resolution and Washington's abstention was seen as a huge rebuke to Israel, which has traditionally been a staunch US ally.

US President-elect Donald Trump had put pressure on the Obama administration to veto the UN resolution critical of Israel.

A day before the vote, Trump said in a post on social network Facebook that the resolution being considered at the UN Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed.

"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. This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis," he had said.

Following the adoption of the resolution, Trump made his displeasure clear, tweeting "As to the UN, things will be different after January 20," referring to the day when he is sworn in as the next US President.

"There is one president at a time," Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, told reporters, dismissing Trump's criticism.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, in Washington's explanation of vote on the resolution, said the vote for US was "not straightforward" because of "for as long as Israel has been a member" of the UN, Israel has been treated differently from other nations at the United Nations.

She said it is America's commitment to Israel's security that makes the United States believe it cannot stand in the way of this resolution as it seeks to preserve a chance of attaining the long-standing objective: two states living side-by-side in peace and security.