The UN voted by a huge majority on December 21 against the unilateral US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This emergency session of the UNGA voted in favour of a resolution rejecting US President Donald Trump’s controversial decision whereby the POTUS had announced that the US had decided to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- as this was the capital of Israel. Through this measure, Trump broke with the international consensus that the final status of the holy city should be decided as part of the peace process.
This was immediately welcomed by Israel. The rest of the world, however, was critical. It was generally agreed that this was a flagrant violation of international law and of the many Resolutions adopted earlier on this issue in the UN.
The final stance
The UNGA voted 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions. This vote came soon after the US veto in the UN Security Council three days earlier. The US was outnumbered on that occasion by 14 to 1.
An analysis of the vote reveals interesting facets within this evolving paradigm. The states which voted in favour in the General Assembly included not only Muslim countries who are members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) but also Russia, India, China, and many European countries -- Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Macedonia, and UK.
Other notable countries who also voted for this UNGA Resolution included Japan, Nepal, New Zealand, Republic of South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and North Korea.
As compared to this diversity of supporters from around the globe, those who voted against the Resolution included Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo, and the US. Some among the 35 States who abstained were interesting, the list included Argentina, Australia, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, and Romania.
This voting scenario was significant.
It happened despite Trump’s threat and intimidation and the efforts of Nikki Haley, the US Permanent Representative to the UN. States were warned that going against the US position and voting for the Resolution could have serious consequences in terms of bilateral relationship with the US.
As expected, Israel was quick to call this moral victory for Palestinians nothing but a “nonbinding resolution.”
Nevertheless, on December 22, Netanyahu, (according to Oren Liebermann of CNN) indicated that “several countries” were considering moving their embassies to Jerusalem in the wake of the US decision. Guatemala has been the first to do so.
Netanyahu in the meantime has also reiterated that Israel was ready to negotiate the future of Jerusalem with the Palestinians. In this regard, he has remarked that “our position is Jerusalem remaining a united, safe, and secure city with freedom of worship for all faiths” still remains.
Netanyahu has however demurred on committing “to a situation where the Palestinians can govern themselves.” It may be mentioned here that Netanyahu’s Right-wing coalition consists of hardliners on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The Palestinian leaders, as expected, have flatly rejected such a proposal, saying it does not give them full sovereignty over their land.
Samantha Vinograd, a CNN national security analyst has pointed out that, though non-binding in character, the Resolution “specifically and strategically distanced countries from the US in its condemnation of President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to relocate the US embassy. By voting for the resolution, countries were also not doing anything that violated the terms of their foreign aid.”
According to her, using aid as a stick, the administration issued an unfortunate set of empty threats. It was unlikely that the US would cease supporting Egypt, Jordan, Afghanistan, and Iraq who had voted for the resolution.
One can only hope that better sense and reason will prevail during 2018. The world needs peaceful resolution of problems rather than the use of force
A tale of two countries
Two other votes have also drawn world attention -- that of Canada and India.
Canada appears to have departed from its past voting behavior. Under Prime Minister Harper who was in office for almost a decade, US and Canada normally had matching votes at the UN. This time around, under Justin Trudeau, Canada abstained on the resolution. This, according to analysts, was slightly different but should not be construed as a big enough gesture to cause a major rift with Israel or with the US.
However, according to some of them, Canada’s latest decision was also a notable departure from its previous voting record and could indicate an unwillingness to look like agreeing to a format which has been described as “bullying.”
Analysts have remarked that the decision by Canada to abstain was not unexpected but represented a delicate balance where the Canadian government is trying to walk carefully as it navigates between not irritating the US during on-going NAFTA negotiations and also not alienating the 57 OIC Member States with the power to cast votes as a powerful bloc against Canada’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.
In India, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy again created a stir by going against his Party’s line by stating that India had “made a large mistake” through its vote in the UNGA against the US position. In this context, Swamy a long-time supporter of Israel also mentioned that this vote was against India’s national interest because “Palestine has never supported India on the Kashmir question.”
It may be recalled that such a view also reflects the existing friendship between India and Israel that was outlined during Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Israel in July 2017. This evolving situation has drawn particular attention because Netanyahu is expected to visit India in January 2018.
In any case, since December 21, both Israel’s Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas are doing the rounds of international capitals and trying their best to evoke support for their respective positions. In the meantime, 12 Palestinians have died till December 25 while protesting against the US decision and Israel has sealed off the entrance to the Ramallah District to restrict movement of Palestinians.
One can only hope that better sense and reason will prevail during 2018. The world needs peaceful resolution of problems rather than the use of force.
Happy New Year to all my readers.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]