The United Nations General Assembly has decisively backed a resolution effectively calling on the US to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel despite threats from the US to pull funding from the world body.
The text says that any decisions regarding the status of the city are “null and void” and must be cancelled. 128 countries voted in favour of the non-binding resolution, while nine voted “no,” and 35 nations including Canada, Mexico and Australia abstained from the voting exercise.
The vote came after US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley issued a direct threat, saying that the US will think twice about funding the world body if it voted to condemn Trump’s decision.
“The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in this assembly,” Haley said.
“We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution” to the UN and when other member nations ask Washington “to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.”
Haley said the US will put its embassy in Jerusalem regardless of the vote.
“That is what the American people want us to do and it is the right thing to do,” Haley said.
“This vote will make a difference in how Americans look at the UN,” she said.
“And this vote will be remembered.”
Haley’s remarks followed a threat from Trump himself, who mentioned the UN vote at a Wednesday Cabinet meeting. “We’re watching those votes,” the President said.
“Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”
Following the vote, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the White House and NSC told the State Department on Thursday afternoon that “the President’s foreign policy team has been empowered to explore various options going forward with other nations, however no decisions had yet been made.”
Nauert also said that “the UN vote is really not the only factor the administration would take into consideration in dealing with our foreign relations.”
In the aftermath, Haley’s office said the support the US did get counted as a victory of sorts, pointing out that nine countries voted against, 35 countries abstained, and 21 were absent.
“While the resolution passed, the vote breakdown tells a different story,” a spokesman for the US mission said.
“It’s clear that many countries prioritized their relationship with the United States over an unproductive attempt to isolate us for a decision that was our sovereign right to make.”
Later Thursday an invitation was sent around to the 64 countries in addition to the US that did not support the resolution on Jerusalem, to attend a reception with Haley in January. The event was labeled as a means to thank the countries for “their friendship to the United States,” according to online reports on social media.
However, Haley’s stance did not go down well with former CIA director under President Obama, John Brennan, who sent a fiery tweet “Trump Admin threat to retaliate against nations that exercise sovereign right in UN to oppose US position on Jerusalem is beyond outrageous. Shows @realDonaldTrump expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone—qualities usually found in narcissistic, vengeful autocrats.”
The US was joined in its “no” vote by Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo. Argentina, Canada and Mexico were among the 35 nations that abstained from the voting exercise, while those that voted in favour included the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia and the UK) as well as key US allies in the Muslim world. However, 21 countries including Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, South Sudan and some others choose not to turn up for the voting exercise.
US officials say the decision to recognize Jerusalem and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv reflects the basic reality. Israel’s seat of government sits in Jerusalem, say US officials who add that their decision has no bearing on a final resolution of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, or on the fate of holy sites of the world’s three largest faiths.
The fate of Jerusalem is so fraught, however, that it is considered a “final status” issue, only to be decided at the end of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. No country bases their diplomatic mission in Jerusalem as a result.
The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
Israel regards the entire city of Jerusalem as its indivisible capital after it regained the east of the city in the 1967 Middle East war, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.
However, Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognized internationally, and all countries currently maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. However, President Trump has told the US state department to start work on moving the US embassy.
On issues relating to Palestinians, the US and Israel always either find themselves in a minority, or with a handful of other friends like the Marshall Islands in the face of overwhelming majorities in the General Assembly, said Richard Gowan, a New York-based UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
And despite the threats from Trump, “There’s safety in numbers for most members of the UN,” Gowan said.
“Smaller countries, poorer countries may get a little nervous when they hear the President’s rhetoric,” said Gowan, “but they will also gain confidence that all the big members of the Arab bloc are pretty much guaranteed to vote against the US position, as well as the Europeans.”
Apart from Israel, none of the US’ closest allies spoke before the vote.
“No General Assembly resolution will ever drive us from Jerusalem,” said Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon.
“The United States simply stated a fact. They officially declared what has always been true. Jerusalem always has been and always will be the capital of Israel.”
“Those who support this resolution are like puppets,” Danon said, “puppets controlled by the strings of your Palestinian masters.”
A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the vote “a victory for Palestine”.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised to reject the results of the vote, calling the UN a “house of lies”.
Afterwards, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Trump and the countries that abstained in a statement issued shortly after the vote.
“Israel thanks President Trump for his unequivocal position in favour of Jerusalem and thanks those countries that voted alongside Israel, alongside the truth.”
“Israel rejects the decision of the United Nations and, at the same time, we show gratitude to the high number of countries that abstained from this resolution,” Netanyahu said.