Defying Trump, U.N. General Assembly Condemns U.S. Decree on Jerusalem


UNITED NATIONS — A lopsided majority of United Nations members rebuked the United States on Thursday, denouncing its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ignoring President Trump’s threats to retaliate by cutting aid to countries voting against it.

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

The resolution is nonbinding and therefore largely symbolic, but the vote indicated the extent to which the Trump administration’s departure from 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 voted for the resolution, though some allies, like Australia and Canada, abstained.

Carrying out a promise to his base of supporters, Mr. Trump upended decades of American policy with his decision on Jerusalem, 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.

The new resolution raised questions about whether Mr. Trump would deliver on his threat on Wednesday to withhold American aid from countries that broke ranks with the United States. While he has significant legal latitude to do so, experts said it would be very difficult to substantially cut off countries like Egypt and Jordan that are strategic partners of the United States in the Middle East.

Israel denounced Thursday’s vote, likening it to a 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism, a decision that was repealed after 16 years because of intensive American pressure that included withholding American dues payments to the United Nations.

“It’s shameful that this meeting is even taking place,” Israel’s envoy to the United Nations, Danny Danon, told the General Assembly. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in a Facebook post: “Israel completely rejects this preposterous resolution. Jerusalem is our capital. Always was, always will be.”

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 United States’ plans to move its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, which she called “the right thing to do.”

“We will remember it when we are called upon once again to make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations,” she said of the vote. “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 United States Mission to the United Nations quickly issued a statement seeking to portray the outcome as a victory because the vote could have been even more lopsided. It cited the 35 abstentions, coupled with 21 delegations that were absent, representing a significant chunk of the total membership of 193.

“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,” the mission said in the statement emailed to journalists.

But American Jewish organizations that strongly support Israel saw nothing positive about the outcome of the vote. David Harris, the chief executive officer of the American Jewish Committee, said he was “dismayed by the overwhelming support of U.N. Member States for the General Assembly resolution condemning U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

Stalwart American allies like France and Britain 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.

“It is more important than ever to rally the international community around the agreed parameters of the peace process,” said France’s ambassador, François Delattre, “and this of course includes the United States, as everyone is aware of its particular role and influence on this issue.”

The decisive rejection of the American 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. It also appeared to deepen the tension between Mr. Trump and the United Nations, which he once likened to a social club.

“I think this was a significantly self-inflicted wound and really unnecessary, clumsy diplomacy on the part of the United States,” Stewart M. Patrick, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said of the outcome.

“In this case what you had was the Trump administration basically changing the rules of the game that the international community had accepted,” he said. “More than that, I think it symbolizes the self-defeating notion that for the United States, ‘it’s my way or the highway.’ ’’

Many diplomats who spoke before the vote — from Turkey, Venezuela, Pakistan, the Maldives, Bangladesh and others — took offense at the pressure campaign by the White House, including last-minute threats by Mr. Trump to cut off aid to countries who voted 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.

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 Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad H. Mansour, said in an interview after the vote that the Trump administration’s approach had worked against the United States.

“The administration made the issue about them — not about Israel,” he said. “And since they made it about them and they used unprecedented tactics, unheard-of in the diplomatic work of the U.N., including blackmail and extortion, then they in my opinion offended the entire international community.”

Pakistan’s ambassador, Maleeha Lodhi, said her country remained a steadfast supporter of the Palestinians “despite the kind of threats we have received in recent days” from the United States.

Aside from Israel, the only countries to side with the United States by voting no were Guatemala, Honduras, Togo, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru and Palau — mostly tiny countries heavily dependent on American aid.

The outcome threatened to alienate Arab allies of the United States and further complicate prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Egypt, Jordan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan are among major recipients of American aid that defied Mr. Trump’s warning and voted for the resolution. Three other recipients — Haiti, Mexico and South Sudan — abstained. Mr. Trump has already threatened to withhold aid from Pakistan unless it cooperates more on counterterrorism operations.

Administration officials said Mr. Trump had significant flexibility to hold up aid — even from countries, like Egypt, where it is congressionally mandated. The White House delayed nearly $300 million in aid to Cairo last summer over concerns about human rights abuses and evidence that it was playing host to guest workers from North Korea.

But the practical effect of Mr. Trump’s threats seemed blunted, analysts said, by Washington’s reliance on countries like Egypt and Jordan. Israel, analysts said, would be among the first countries to protest a cutoff of aid to Egypt, because it fears the instability that would result from such a decision.

Already on Thursday the administration seemed to backtrack somewhat.

“The president had said yesterday that the U.N. vote is really not the only factor that the administration would take into consideration in dealing with our foreign relations and countries who have chosen to go one way or the other,” said Heather Nauert, the State Department’s spokeswoman.

Timothy A. Lenderking, a deputy assistant secretary of state for Arabian Gulf Affairs, insisted that Mr. Trump’s remarks were not “an empty threat at all,” but was circumspect when asked about Yemen, home to a humanitarian crisis and civil war, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are strategic partners of the United States. All three voted for the resolution.

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 did not mention the United States by name, but it called 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 Mr. 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,” Mr. 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.”

Mr. Trump is not the first president to have an antagonistic relationship with the United Nations. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt pushed for the creation of a world body after World War II, presidents have frequently felt stymied by the defiance of its members toward the United States or its allies. For a few, it was “a dangerous place,” in the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the American ambassador to the United Nations under President Gerald R. Ford.

In 2003, President George W. Bush clashed with allies at the United Nations over Iraq, after he claimed authority under Security Council Resolution 1441 to invade the country.

Relations improved under President Barack Obama, who reemphasized the role of the United Nations as an agent for confronting global problems. The United States, however, continued to oppose Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that singled out Israel.

In the final days of Mr. Obama’s presidency, however, the United States abstained from voting on a resolution condemning Israel’s settlement construction. The episode has since come under scrutiny because the Israeli government contacted officials of Mr. Trump’s transition team to try to head it off.


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