AFTER attempts by 14 nations to pass a United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution to force United States President Donald Trump to reverse his decision (of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem) failed on Dec 18 because the US exercised its veto power, the international community took the only step left — taking it to the UN General Assembly (UNGA), which convened an emergency session on Dec 21.
The whole world was watching. How would the 193 nations vote? Would they unanimously vote on the resolution to undo Trump’s plan for Jerusalem — an action that was contrary to international law and in breach of several UN Security Council resolutions?
Many had doubts on the outcome of the UNGA resolution. Now, we know how the international community voted.
The draft resolution presented at UNGA reaffirmed 10 Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem dating back to 1967, including the one stating that the city’s final status must be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
It required states to comply with these past resolutions and not to recognise any action or measure contrary to them. The general expectation was that at least 150 out of the 193 states in the General Assembly would vote for the resolution.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (noted for his warm ties with the US and Israel) had publicly announced his support for East Jerusalem as the future capital of the Palestinian state.
On Dec 20, Trump threatened to cut US funding to countries that opposed his decision on Jerusalem. Just as his UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, had said earlier, Trump repeated that the US would be “taking names” of those who voted in favour of the resolution.
Telling the media that he was tired of being taken advantage of, Trump said: “For all these nations, they take our money and then vote against us. They take hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. We’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us.”
Angered by Haley’s threat that “names will be taken”, Bolivian UN ambassador Sacha Sergio said: “The first name that I should write down is Bolivia. We regret the arrogance and disrespect to the sovereign decision of member states and to multilateralism”.
Bolivia is one of 15 countries with a seat in the UN Security Council.
Joining her, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusogu said: “No honourable state would bow to such pressure.”
Saying that the world had changed and that the old adage that might was right was no longer true, Cavusogu added: “The world today is revolting against injustices.”
The resolution was introduced by Yemen’s UN ambassador Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, who said Trump’s action in moving the capital of Israel to Jerusalem was “a blatant violation of the rights of the Palestinian people and the Arab nations, and all Muslims and Christians of the world”.
Speaking as chair of the Arab Group at the UN, Alyemany was the first speaker at the UNGA session.
The resolution was co-sponsored by Turkey, chair of the summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and Yemen. It was similar to the resolution tabled on Dec 18. There is no veto power at UNGA.
By Dec 22, the whole world knew that the General Assembly had declared, by a vote of 128-9, with 35 abstentions, that Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was “null and void”. The resolution stated that any decision to change the status of Jerusalem had no legal effect and that it must be rescinded. It called on member countries not to set up diplomatic missions in Jerusalem.
Several countries which had been receiving US aid, such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa voted in favour of the resolution, showing that the threats by Haley and Trump did not work. The absent countries included Kenya (the fifth largest recipient of US aid last year), Georgia and Ukraine, all of which have close ties with the US.
All four permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia and the UK) voted in favour of the resolution. The US is its fifth permanent member and it voted against the resolution.
The eight countries which voted alongside the US against the resolution were Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo.
The 35 countries which abstained from voting included Argentina, Australia, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Fiji, Haiti, Hungary, Jamaica, Malawi, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, South Sudan, Uganda and Vanuatu.
After the vote-count was announced, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the General Assembly resolution was “a resounding global ‘no’ to Trump regime’s thuggish intimidation at the UN”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted: “We welcome with great pleasure the UN General Assembly’s overwhelming support for a historic resolution on Al-Quds Al-Sharif. We expect the Trump administration to rescind without further delay its unfortunate decision, whose illegality has been clearly established by UNGA.”
While many countries may feel that their recent “victory” at UNGA is an occasion for celebration, the painful fact remains that unlike a resolution of the UN Security Council, a resolution of the General Assembly is non-binding and does not carry the force of international law.
Trump may probably ignore the resolution just as the US (and its ally, Israel) have ignored many other Security Council resolutions before this. If he does that, the US will be more “isolated” by the international community as the years roll by.
Trump will learn that threats do not ensure respect (though perhaps may command reluctant obedience) and money alone does not buy lasting friendship.
His ill-advised move on Jerusalem has galvanised the 1.8 billion Muslim community worldwide to stand together (against him) in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The writer formerly served the
Attorney-General’s Chambers before he left for practice, the corporate sector and, then, the academia