Defying Trump, UN General Assembly condemns US decree on Jerusalem

A majority of the world's nations delivered a stinging rebuke to the United States on Thursday, denouncing its decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and ignoring President Donald Trump's threats to retaliate by cutting aid to countries voting against it.

In a collective act of defiance toward Washington, the General Assembly voted 128-9, with 35 abstentions, to demand that the United States rescind its December 6 declaration on Jerusalem, the contested holy city.

The resolution is nonbinding and therefore largely symbolic, but the lopsided vote indicated the extent to which the Trump administration's decision to defy a 50-year international consensus on Jerusalem's status has unsettled world politics and contributed to America's diplomatic isolation.

Major allies like Britain, France, Germany and Japan all voted for the resolution, though some allies, like Australia and Canada, abstained.

Carrying out a promise to his base of supporters, Trump's decision on Jerusalem upended decades of US policy, aggravating an emotional issue that has festered since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war when the Israelis occupied the entire city.

Many Security Council resolutions since then, which have the force of international law, have warned that Jerusalem's status is unresolved, that claims of sovereignty by Israel are invalid and that the issue must be settled in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel denounced Thursday's vote, likening it to a 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism, a decision that was repealed in 1991 after intensive American lobbying. "It's shameful that this meeting is even taking place," Israel's envoy to the United Nations, Danny Danon, told the body.

The American ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, called the vote "null and void," declaring that "no vote in the United Nations will make any difference" on the decision to move the embassy, which she called "the right thing to do."

Echoing vows by Trump to keep score, Haley said, "The United States will remember this day, in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very right of exercising our right as a sovereign nation."

"We will remember it when we are called upon once again to make the world's largest contribution to the United Nations," she said. "And we will remember when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit."

The US Mission to the United Nations quickly issued a statement seeking to portray the outcome as a victory because the vote could have been more lopsided. It cited the 35 abstentions, coupled with 21 delegations that were absent, representing a significant chunk of the total membership.

"While the resolution passed, the vote breakdown tells a different story," the mission said in the statement emailed to journalists. "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."

Stalwart US allies like France and Britain, which voted with the majority, sought to frame their position as merely reaffirming the Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem dating back to 1967, which are still in force, and to play down the isolation of the United States.

"The resolution adopted today only confirms relevant international law provisions on Jerusalem," said France's ambassador, Franois Delattre. "This vote must not divide or exclude. 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 United States, as everyone is aware of its particular role and influence on this issue."

Diplomats brushed aside what appeared to be a hastily organized pressure campaign by the White House, including last-minute threats by Trump to cut off aid to countries voting for the resolution.

"History records names, it remembers names - the names of those who stand by what is right and the names of those who speak falsehood," said Riad Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister. "Today we are seekers of rights and peace."

He said that the Palestinians "will not be threatened," and that the United States had insisted on "ignoring the dangerous repercussions of its decision."

The Israeli government was equally defiant. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the dedication of a new hospital in the city of Ashdod, declared before the vote that "Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, whether the UN recognises it or not."

(STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS.)

The outcome, which many diplomats said privately was a foregone conclusion, deepened Trump's isolation over the issue, threatened to alienate Arab allies of the United States and may have further complicated prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The vote also reflected resentment toward threats by Trump and Haley that any country supporting the resolution risked a cutoff in aid. The willingness of other countries to ignore or play down such threats suggested that they had concluded that Trump was making them for domestic political reasons. It is also difficult to see how he could make good on a vow to cut financial assistance to important allies like Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.

Nonetheless, the overwhelming rejection of the US shift of position on Jerusalem, on the world's biggest diplomatic stage, was a setback for a president who is still looking for a major foreign achievement after nearly a year on the job.

The General Assembly resolution, drafted by Yemen and Turkey, cited numerous past resolutions on Jerusalem and urged nations to "refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions." The consensus under international law is that East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since 1967, should be the future capital of a Palestinian state.

The resolution does not mention the United States by name, but it calls for a "reversal of the negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-state solution."

The General Assembly resolution was introduced a few days after a nearly identical resolution in the 15-member Security Council was vetoed by the United States - the lone no vote - an outcome that stoked Trump's anger.

"All of these nations that take our money and then they vote against us at the Security Council or they vote against us, potentially, at the Assembly, they take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us," Trump said on Wednesday.

"Well, we're watching those votes," he said. "Let them vote against us; we'll save a lot. We don't care."

On Tuesday, Haley sent an email to General Assembly members, urging them to back the United States on the issue.

She argued that Trump's Jerusalem declaration had not prejudged the outcome of any negotiations and "does not foreclose any of the options considered by Israelis and Palestinians for decades."

But she also invoked a threat by Trump, writing: "The President will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us. We will take note of each and every vote on this issue."

It was not the first time that Haley had used this language at the United Nations. Soon after taking her post in January, she said, "You're going to see a change in the way we do business." The United States, she said, would back its allies and expected their backing in return. "For those who don't have our back," she added, "we're taking names."

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