Report

U.N. Security Council Takes Aim at U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem

The U.S. vetoed the resolution, which Nikki Haley called an “insult” to America that “won’t be forgotten.”

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at U.N. Security Council meeting, where she vetoed a resolution seeking to rescind U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. December 18, 2017. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at U.N. Security Council meeting, where she vetoed a resolution seeking to rescind U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. December 18, 2017. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump received an extraordinary rebuke before the U.N. Security Council as America’s friends and foes joined forces in an unsuccessful effort to compel him to rescind his decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Fourteen of the council’s 15 members, including close allies like Britain, France, and Japan, voted in favor of a resolution that would have declared that any unilateral decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem “have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded.”

The draft resolution, sponsored by Egypt, was blocked by the United States, which cast its first Security Council veto in six years.

While the U.S. veto effectively killed the measure, the resolution underscored the how isolated the Trump administration is on a number of critical foreign policy fronts, including its opposition to the Paris climate accord, its rejection of the Iran nuclear accord, and its decision to withdraw from international negotiations on migration.

“The United States will not be told by any country where we can put our embassy,” a defiant Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council.

“What we have witnessed here is an insult. It won’t be forgotten. It is one more example of the United Nations doing more harm than good in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” she said.

Haley said the United States has done more than any other country to assist Palestinians and promote peace, noting that American taxpayers have given the Palestinians more than $5 billion in economic, security and humanitarian assistance since 1994.

Opposition to the embassy move from Egypt and like-minded countries was not surprising, but Haley was unable to convince even close U.S. allies to support the administration’s stance, or to at least abstain.

London decided to vote in favor because it was consistent with international law enshrined in multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, Britain’s U.N. ambassador Matthew Rycroft said.

“Our view…is that Jerusalem should be the shared capitol for Israelis and for Palestinians, and the U.K. embassy, for now, will remain in Tel Aviv.”

“What this resolution does is basically reaffirm the international consensus on Jerusalem based on international law, relevant Security Council resolutions, and the agreed parameters for solving the Israeli-Palestinian-conflict,” France’s U.N. ambassador, Francois Delattre, told reporters. He described French support as a “principled position to preserve the international consensus on the two-state solution because there is no other way to solve this conflict.”

President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in a Dec. 6 statement, upending nearly 70 years of U.S.policy, and declared plans to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city. Trump cast his decision as a “long overdue step to advance the peace process,” noting that generations of American leaders who had refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had failed to achieve a Middle East peace.

The decision drew a sharp, and immediate criticism from around the world and at the United Nations, which expressed concern that the U.S. decision could spark a new cycle of violence in the Palestinian territories. Pope Francis weighed in, saying he was “profoundly concerned” about the impact of the president’s decision on one of the world’s revered cities, a holy place for Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

Following Monday’s vote, the Palestinians’ U.N. representative, Riyad Mansour, said that the overwhelming majority of Security Council members sent an “unequivocal” message that the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital lacks legal force. The U.S. veto, he added, serves to “undermine its role in any future peace process. What we hear today is total bias, 100 percent in favor of the occupying power rather than a neutral position between us and the Israels.”

Israel’s U.N. ambassador Danny Danon fired back, saying the supporters of the resolution reinforced “decades-long double standards” regarding the status of Jerusalem.They are guilty of blatant hypocrisy.”

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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