On Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a resolution that was co-sponsored by Turkey and Yemen, condemning US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In the emergency session, 128 countries voted in favour of the non-binding resolution, 9 voted against the resolution and 35 abstained from the vote. A senior political analyst for Al Jazeera described the success of the resolution by such a huge majority as “a great humiliation for the US.” World leaders including those from Palestine, Turkey, and Iran have called this vote a “success for international law.” The vote, though largely symbolic, was the focus of intense diplomacy from the Trump administration, with some now questioning whether this has backfired in the face of such intense opposition resulting in the undermining of the United States on the global stage.
The emergency session was held at the request of Arab and Muslim countries after Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel and announced that the US would move its embassy to Jerusalem. No country currently has its embassy in Jerusalem due to the status of the city being one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Thus far, the longstanding international consensus has been that the status of Jerusalem can only be settled as the final issue in any peace deal. Palestinian leadership have previously warned that any change to the status quo such as through this decision would mean the end of the peace process premised by a two-state solution. The decision made by the US triggered a series of protests in the occupied Palestinian territories and major international cities including Jakarta, Istanbul and Rabat and condemnation from several world leaders, including several traditional US allies.
Leading up to the vote, the Trump administration waged a campaign of threats and intimidation on the members of the General Assembly. On Wednesday, Trump declared that any country who voted against the United States would have any US aid they receive “eliminated”. Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, threatened that if the member nations voted against the US position, funding to the UN would be decreased. Haley inferred that the contributions that the US makes to the UN should guarantee “respect” and the support of the General Assembly. Despite the threats, major recipients of US aid voted for the resolution, including Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq. Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna said that the high number of abstentions (35) came as a surprise and that the campaign of threat and intimidation “may well have produced this increase.”
The vote for the resolution is being considered a success of the international legal system. Many countries that voted in favour of the non-binding resolution did so not necessarily to back Palestine, but rather to support international law and the previous UN resolutions dating back to 1967. Many counties also considered the vote to be an opportunity to defy the Trump administrations bullying tactics. Iran’s Foreign Minister described the result of the vote on Twitter as “ a resounding global NO to Trump regime’s thuggish intimidation.”
Various world actors including UN member states, INGO’s and media outlets have described the last few weeks since the Trump administration’s declaration that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital as “the end of 50 years of American dominance of the so-called peace process.” Peter Beaumont of The Guardian described the actions of the Trump administration regarding the issue of Jerusalem as “clumsy” and leading to the overall undermining of the administration. Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, took this a step further saying that the actions have resulted in “self-mutilation of a much-abused American role as mediator”; Palestine’s US Envoy Riyad Mansour called the result “a complete failure for [Trump’s] campaign.” Following the vote, Palestinian officials have said they will no longer engage in negotiations where the US is involved.
It is difficult to know at this stage what the outcome will be for countries such as Egypt, who receive a large amount of aid from the US. In line with the President’s “America First” mantra, since taking office the Trump administration has made significant moves to cut US foreign aid spending. In March, the administration announced that foreign aid spending would by cut 28% for 2018. Prior to the vote, the administration’s planned foreign aid in 2018 was to Israel $3.1bn, Egypt $1.38bn and Jordan $1bn. Though Trump said that all aid would be “eliminated,” this would come at a high cost to the American companies. A significant portion of US aid comes in the form of Foreign Military Financing (FMF), which is the ability to purchase US-made weapons, military services or defence training. FMF may be administered as a loan or a grant.
This vote has called into question the dominance of the US on the evolving global stage. Will countries continue to seek partnerships with the US? Will they continue to be pressured by threats and intimidation or is this result indicating a new global pathway being formed? Raed Jarrar, Advocacy and Government Relations Director for the Middle East at Amnesty International USA said “The Trump administration’s bullying tactics will only serve to further isolate the United States on the global stage…rather than threatening those who depend on US aid, the Trump administration should abide by its legal obligations not to recognise an illegal situation and reverse its course on Jerusalem.”
What is clear is that Israel and the Trump administration will not be backing down on this controversial issue. Israel’s Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren said, “we must evict the UN from the scenic Governor’s House, where its bloated staff does nothing, and give this historic site to a school, a hospital or –best yet- a new US embassy.”