Israel and US Stand Firm as Denunciations of Jerusalem Recognition Ring Out at UN General Assembly Vote
As widely forecast, the United Nations General Assembly voted on Thursday in favor of a resolution introduced by Turkey and Yemen that condemned the Trump administration’s Dec. 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Amid warnings from President Donald Trump and senior administration officials that UN member-states voting in favor could jeopardize the financial aid they receive from the US, 128 countries backed the resolution, with 9 countries voting against.
Thirty-five states abstained from the vote; by UN standards on Israel-related resolutions, this was a reasonably high number, but less than the 42 who abstained on the 2012 vote granting observer-member status at the world body to the “State of Palestine,” as well as the 57 who abstained on a 2014 resolution condemning Israel for its presence in the “occupied Syrian Golan.”
The two-hour debate in the General Assembly prior to the vote was distinguished by harsh condemnations of the US, along with the use of inflammatory language by some representatives that questioned Israel’s very legitimacy. Opening the debate, the foreign minister of Turkey – a country that currently receives $155 million of US aid annually — charged that “generations of Palestinians have been subject to systematic violence and discrimination.”
“This (US) decision is an outrageous assault on all universal values,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu declared.
Çavuşoğlu went on to accuse the US of “bullying” member-states over the Jerusalem vote by “threatening” a cut in aid. “It is unethical to think that the words and dignity of member states are for sale,” he continued. “We will not be intimidated.”
That was followed by consecutive speeches from the American and Israeli envoys, both of whom struck a defiant stance in an assembly chamber seething with condemnation. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, openly wondered why the Jewish state chose to remain a member of the world body, given that “to its shame, the UN has long been a hostile place for Israel.”
Israel remained in the UN, Haley said, not just to stand up for itself, but because it shares “the ideals of peace, freedom and human dignity.” “Being forced” to stand at the UN podium to defend a sovereign decision by the United States, Haley remarked, had given her insight into Israel’s own experience.
Haley explained that the primary goals of the US at the UN centered upon the provision of humanitarian relief, maintaining peace and security in “fragile” areas throughout the world, and “holding outlaw regimes accountable.” She underlined that the US — which provides more than 20 percent of the UN’s budget — was the organization’s biggest contributor.
“That is our American way,” Haley stated. “But when we make a generous contribution to the UN, we have a legitimate expectation that our good will is recognized and respected.”
Haley pointed to the irony of having to pay out for the “dubious privilege” of being attacked in the UN’s own halls. “We are answerable to our people, unlike some in this chamber,” she said pointedly. “If our investment fails, we have an obligation to spend our resources in more productive ways.”
Haley cited the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 as the basis for Trump’s decision. “This decision was in accordance with US law and endorsed by the American people,” she said. As far as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was concerned, Haley said, Trump’s decision “does not prejudge final status issues, does not preclude a two-state solution, and does nothing to harm peace efforts.”
“The US will remember this day when it was singled out in the General Assembly for the act of exercising its sovereign right,” Haley declared. The vote, she said, would not change the resolve of the US to relocate is embassy to Jerusalem, but it would “make a difference on how Americans look at the UN and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN.”
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, displayed similar contempt for the resolution — at one point holding up an ancient coin from the Second Temple period to underline Judaism’s enduring connection with the city of Jerusalem.
“It is shameful that this meeting is even taking place,” Danon said. “Jerusalem is the holiest place in the world for Jews, and the capital of the State of Israel — period.”
Danon observed that the framework which enabled Thursday’s meeting — an “Emergency Special Session” on Israeli policies in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem that was originally initiated by Qatar in 1997 — demonstrated the UN’s institutional bias against the Jewish state. “We live in a world filled with conflict and war, but only when it comes to Israel, the one democracy in the region, does this assembly remain in a constant open session,” he remarked.
Denouncing those states voting in favor of the resolution as “puppets on the strings of the Palestinian leadership,” Danon paid tribute to the “brave countries” that voted against it. He predicted that the fate of Thursday’s resolution would be the same as that of the General Assembly’s infamous 1974 resolution equating Zionism with racism — a determination that was rescinded in 1990. “The day will come when the entire world will recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the State of Israel,” Danon declared.
Those countries that spoke in favor of the resolution included a full range of authoritarian states bitterly opposed to the US and Israel — among them Syria, whose representative referred to Israel as “the racist colonial Zionist entity,” and Iran, whose delegate warned darkly of a “bigger plot” in the US “to legitimize the Israeli regime’s occupation and expansionism.”
Venezuela’s representative closed his address by telling the US, “The world is not for sale and your threats imperil global peace,” while North Korea’s ambassador opined that Trump’s decision on Jerusalem “deserves condemnation and rejection.”
Yet many of the countries that spoke in favor of the resolution are the beneficiaries of substantial US largesse — suggesting that Trump’s talk of a cut in aid was largely ignored.
Riyad al-Maliki, the foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority — which received $417 million in American aid in 2016 — accused the US of an “illegal and provocative” decision and characterized Israel as an “apartheid” state. Describing Jerusalem as the “gateway to heaven,” he emphasized the presence of Muslim and Christian holy places in the city, but notably ignored mentioning those sites, most obviously the Western Wall, sacred to Jews.
The representative of Pakistan — whose country was the recipient of $778 million of US aid in 2016 — attacked what she called the “revisionist decision” of the US, presenting the resolution as the world community saying “clearly that it cannot and will not be complicit in any act of illegality.”
Indonesia – which received $222 million from the US in 2016 – charged the US with “hurting the feelings of justice.”
The representative of South Africa – the recipient of $597 million of US aid in 2016, much of it dedicated to combating AIDS – excoriated Israel’s “military occupation of the Palestinian people and their land.” The American decision, he said, was “regrettable and not constructive.” On Wednesday, South Africa’s ruling ANC voted to downgrade the country’s embassy in Israel to a “liaison office,” in a potential move that critics said would diminish the Pretoria government’s international credibility.
Meanwhile, Europe’s leading states, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom, all voted in favor of the resolution. The list of countries voting against — Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo and the United States — did not include a single European country. However, seven European states — Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Romania — joined the list of abstentions.