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U.N. Defies Trump's Threats by Passing Resolution on Jerusalem

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 12/21/2017 Kambiz Foroohar

Video by Reuters America

The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a measure critical of President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel despite U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s warning that the move could put funding for their nations and the global body at risk.

The nonbinding UN resolution passed on Thursday by a vote of 128-9, with 35 nations abstaining. Key U.S. allies backing the measure over Trump’s threats included the U.K., France, Italy, Japan and Germany. The U.S. was joined in opposition by countries including Guatemala, Nauru and Micronesia. Abstentions included Australia, Canada and Argentina.

“The United States will remember this day when it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly,” Haley said at the U.N. podium ahead of the vote. “We will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they often do, to pay even more. This vote will be remembered.”

That threat was repudiated by speakers from countries supporting the resolution, which says the status of Jerusalem must be resolved through negotiations. A similar resolution had 14 votes in favor in the 15-member Security Council last week, prompting Haley to exercise the first U.S. veto since 2011. 

‘This is bullying’

“We were all asked to vote no or face the consequences,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said before Thursday’s vote. “Some even threatened to cut development aid. This is bullying. It is unethical to think that the votes and dignity of member states are for sale.”

The debate follows Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement, which included a decision to begin moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The announcement prompted criticism across the Middle East and from key U.S. allies in Europe who said it would harm efforts to foster Middle East peace.

Haley and her team argued afterward that 21 nations not present for the vote — including Moldova, Zambia and the Caribbean island nations of Saint Lucia and St. Kitts & Nevis — should be counted as backing the U.S. position.

A U.S. spokesman said the vote breakdown made clear that many countries gave their relationship with the U.S. priority over an attempt to isolate the country over a decision it had the sovereign right to make.

Netanyahu’s praise

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a similar point, with his office issuing a statement praising “the great number of countries that did not vote for the action.”

U.S. allies who backed the measure didn’t see it that way.

“The resolution adopted today only confirms relevant international law,” said Francois Delattre, France’s ambassador to the U.N. “It is more important than ever to rally the international community around the agreed parameters of the peace process, and this of course includes the U.S.”

Palestinian officials said Trump’s Jerusalem decision disqualified the U.S. from being a mediator in any Israel-Palestinian negotiations.

Read a QuickTake Q&A on the controversy over Jerusalem’s status

The voting results on the Jerusalem measure are displayed on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Thursday. © Spencer Platt, Getty Images The voting results on the Jerusalem measure are displayed on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Thursday.

Haley’s threat carries weight because the U.S. is the largest contributor to U.N. operations. Based on a formula agreed to by member nations, the U.S. provides 28.5 percent of the $7.3 billion U.N. peacekeeping budget and 22 percent of the core budget of $2.7 billion.

Haley walked out of the General Assembly soon after her speech, though members of the U.S. delegation remind behind, awaiting the vote.

But the very nature of the U.N., which depends on compromise and negotiation, will also limit the reach of U.S. threats. Haley is expected to introduce a new resolution to the Security Council on Friday tightening sanctions on North Korea. For that measure to pass, the U.S. will need nations including China and Russia to refrain from vetoing the proposal.

Except for Israel, which supports the U.S. position, most major U.S. allies opposed to Trump’s Jerusalem decision stayed away from the podium on Thursday. Countries speaking in support of the measure included North Korea, Yemen, Turkey, Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, South Africa and Iran. Those nations also came under intense fire by Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon.

“Those who support today’s resolution are like puppets pulled by the strings of the Palestinian puppet masters,” Danon said. “If this body were really united for peace, it would pass a resolution condemning Palestinian violence.”

Telling Trump

Haley this week warned other countries against supporting the resolution, saying Trump “has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us.”

Trump weighed in on the Jerusalem vote on Wednesday.

“I liked the message that Nikki sent yesterday at the United Nations to all of those nations that take our money and then they vote against us in the Security Council, they vote against us potentially at the Assembly,” Trump said. “They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes. Let ’em vote against us.”

With assistance by Jonathan Ferziger

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