‘The United States will remember this day’: A closer look at the UN Assembly Jerusalem vote
UNITED NATIONS — The USA and Israel suffered a nasty diplomatic slap when the 193 member UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the Trump Administration’s plan to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. But while the mainstream media and the usual chorus of critics presented this lopsided vote (128-9-35) as a damning verdict on the Donald’s latest diplomatic foray, let’s look beyond the simple numbers and white heat rhetoric.
New York’s tabloid paper the Daily News front page blared the standard opinion: Rejected (in bold red) with a picture of president Trump peering over a globe. And while it’s an old ritual for the UN General Assembly to slam and shame Israel on a regular basis, the delegations went a step further by venting their ire on the USA, still the world organization’s major financial donor.
Let’s look at the facts. The 193 member Assembly offered a thumping rebuke to Washington over the Administration’s plan to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Admittedly while previous Administrations (including Obama), and the U.S. Congress had pledged the move the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel’s legal capital, that was all rhetoric. Until now.
Besides being the spiritual nexus of three of the world’s religions, Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Jerusalem (East) is viewed as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The Assembly’s tenth Emergency Special Session set the stage for the diplomatic showdown.
The draft resolution was sponsored by Turkey and Yemen; need we say more? Turkey an increasingly authoritarian country who once lorded over the region in Ottoman days and Yemen,
a failed state wracked by civil war and famine.
The resolution did NOT mention the USA nor refer to the Trump Administration by name but “calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem,” based on a Security Council resolution (478) back in 1980.
Now to the numbers; of the 128 votes supporting the resolution we see the usual gaggle of dictatorships and one party states. Cuba, China, Islamic Iran, North Korea, Sudan and of course Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Significantly though, most European Union members, including Britain, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden also backed the resolution.
Let’s be frank; the vote while non-binding signals a clear and present danger that mainstream EU countries would support such a move.
Those 9 countries opposing the draft resolution included Israel, Honduras, Guatemala, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Micronesia, Togo and the USA. Guatemala plans to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
Now it gets interesting. Among the 35 abstentions, Canada as well as EU states such as Croatia, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Hungary, Poland and Romania abstained. Bosnia did so too.
Abstentions were strong among Latin American and Caribbean states reflecting both strong U.S. influence and often surprisingly good relations with Israel too.
Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay joined Caribbean states Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Trinidad were among abstentions.
There was another category too; not present and nor voting which included Ukraine (though they voted for a similar Security Council resolution earlier in the week), Kenya and Zambia.
Where did Asia stand? Japan, India and South Korea supported the resolution despite their close ties to Washington. Predictably China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia said yes too.
Among the ASEAN bloc only the Philippines abstained. Burma chose not to vote.
Diplomatic sources predicted that earlier in the week the resolution was expected to get 150 Yes votes. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley playing hardball knocked down the total to 128 and switched many to Abstentions.
“As you consider your vote, I want you to know that the President and U.S. take this vote personally,” Haley wrote to wavering UN delegations , adding that Trump “will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us.”
Abba Eban, the legendary Israeli Foreign Minister in the 1960’s once quipped and I paraphrase, “If Algeria introduced a resolution stating the world was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 in favor, to 13 with 26 abstentions.”
Haley ascended the marble rostrum, “The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation.” Less than a week later Washington announced a previously agreed cut of $285 million from the UN budget.
The good news is that General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding. The bad news remains that Palestine’s role in the rhetorical echo chamber has been emboldened and set for further confrontations in the new year.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]