Diplomacy

Modi Government Sticks to Earlier Line, Backs UN Resolution Against Trump's Jerusalem Call

The US piled on the pressure on India and other countries before the vote.

A Palestinian man watches a televised broadcast of the UN General Assembly vote on a draft resolution calling on the United States to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, at an electrical appliances store in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip December 21, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

A Palestinian man watches a broadcast of the UN General Assembly vote on a resolution calling on the US to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip December 21, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

New Delhi: Despite threats of retaliation from Washington, India voted in favour of the resolution passed overwhelmingly in the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday which calls upon the United States to withdraw its decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The resolution, which was tabled by Turkey and Yemen and supported by a slew of Muslim and non-aligned movement countries, was approved by 128 votes – two-thirds of the 193-member UNGA. While 35 countries abstained, only nine countries voted against the resolution – the US, Israel, Honduras, Guatemala, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Togo and Micronesia. Twenty-one countries did not vote at all.

Expressing “deep regret” over recent decisions over the status of Jerusalem, the resolution does not specifically mention the US, but states that the final status of the city will be “resolved through negotiations in line with relevant United Nations resolutions”. Here are the operative paragraphs of the resolution (highlights added):

1. Affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and in this regard calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem, pursuant to Security Council resolution 478 (1980);

2. Demands that all States comply with Security Council resolutions regarding the Holy City of Jerusalem, and not recognize any actions or measures contrary to those resolutions;

3. Reiterates its call for the reversal of the negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-State solution and for the intensification and acceleration of international and regional efforts and support aimed at achieving, without delay, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East on the basis of the relevant United Nations resolutions, the Madrid terms of reference, including the principle of land for peace, the Arab Peace Initiative 1 and the Quartet road map,2 and an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967;

4. Decides to adjourn the tenth emergency special session temporarily and to authorize the President of the General Assembly at its most recent session to resume its meeting upon request from Member States.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Arab group nations took the action to the UNGA after the US used its veto for the first time in six years to reject a resolution in the UN Security Council. All other countries, including the US’s closely ally, the UK, had voted in favour of the UNSC resolution, which was drafted by Egypt.

“What we witnessed here in the Security Council is an insult. It won’t be forgotten,” US permanent representative to UN, Nikki Haley had said after the vote on December 18.

That same day, Turkey and Yemen sent a letter to the president of the UNGA calling for resuming the tenth Emergency Special Session under the “Uniting for peace” procedure. This procedure, under GA resolution 377, was passed in 1950 as a way around the USSR’s security council veto. It allows for the GA to “make appropriate recommendations”, if the UNSC fails to act. All resolutions under this session are, however, non-binding.

In 1997, the tenth emergency session was convened on a request from Qatar, to deliberate on Israel’s decision to build a housing project in the Jabal Abu Ghneim area of East Jerusalem. After the resolution was adopted, the session was not ended but only adjourned – allowingfor faster resumption of the session by the UNGA as required. This emergency session was previously resumed in 2009 after Israel’s Gaza military operations.

With a looming UNGA vote set against Washington, Haley had kept up the pressure with a letter to her colleagues. “As you consider your vote, I want you to know that the President and US take this vote personally…The President will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us. We will take note of each and every vote on this issue,” she wrote.

On her twitter account, she said that the “US will be taking names”.

At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, US President Donald Trump asserted, “Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they’re doing.”

The heavy-handed tough talk from Haley did not find many takers among the diplomatic community – rather it may have hardened several positions. For UN observers, the extraordinary language used by Haley seemed geared more towards her domestic base, with the former South Carolina governor presumed to have presidential ambitions.

Trump had been reiterating during his campaign as well as after taking office that the US will be cutting its funding to the UN. Earlier, the US withdrew from UNESCO in October due to the UN cultural body’s “anti-Israel bias”.

In continuity with previous threats to cut aid, Haley said on Thursday at the special session, “We have an obligation to demand more for our investment”. If the investment “fails”, said Haley, the US has an “obligation” to spend our resources in more productive ways”. “Those are the thoughts that come to mind when we consider the resolution before us today,” she added.

US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley vetos an Egyptian-drafted resolution regarding recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem, during the United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including Palestine, at U.N. Headquarters in New York City, New York, US, December 18, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid/Files

US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley vetos an Egyptian-drafted resolution regarding recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem, during the United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including Palestine, at U.N. Headquarters in New York City, New York, US, December 18, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid/Files

Again pointing her firepower at the majority of the international community, she said that the US will remember the vote when “we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations”.

The US is the UN’s largest financial supporter – $10 billion in 2016 – which is about one-fifth of the world body’s total budget. Trump had proposed to make a substantial dent in this amount by stopping all payments to climate change programmes, cutting down contributions to peacekeeping operations and paring down funds for bodies like UNICEF. However, most of the proposals have not yet been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Haley also asserted that it will impact nations who vote in favour of the resolution. “And we will remember it 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.”

Egypt is one of the biggest recipients of US military aid, at $1.1 billion. Having signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, it is a key US ally in the volatile region. Other co-sponsors of the resolution – Afghanistan ($5.1 billion), Jordan ($1.2 billion), Iraq ($5.3 billion), Pakistan ($778 million) – are also on the list of top ten US aid recipients.

Haley, who is among the most high-profile politicians in Trump’s cabinet, said that the US will go ahead with relocating its embassy in Jerusalem. “No vote in the United Nations will make any difference on that. But this vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN. And this vote will be remembered,” she asserted.

After the UNGA vote, Haley claimed that “65 countries refused to condemn the United States” – essentially bunching together all the negative votes, abstentions and those who had not voted at all.

All of the 65 countries have been invited to a January 3 reception by Haley as a “thank you for your friendship to the United States”.

Meanwhile, the US State Department seems to be tempering expectations of immediate punitive actions against countries who have voted for the resolution. State department spokesperson Heather Neurt said that the “UN vote is not the only factor” which will determine the US’s relations with other countries, though the “president’s foreign policy team has been empowered to explore various options going forward”.

Incidentally, Honduras’s vote against the resolution occurred a day after the US indicated that it will support the controversial re-election of the incumbent president, despite the Organisation of American States calling for a new vote.

The US’s immediate neighbours, Canada and Mexico, were among those who abstained at the vote. Both these countries are currently involved in difficult talks with the US to re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In their explanations of vote read out in the UNGA, the Canadian and Mexican sides had said that resolution was unhelpful, but still asserted that the status of Jerusalem should not be changed and can only be resolved by the Israelis and Palestinians. This was the justification by most of the other countries that had abstained.

There were seven abstentions among the US’s 28 NATO allies, while the rested voted in favour of the resolutions.

In Europe, five eastern countries abstained – Hungary, Poland, Romania, Latvia and Czech Republic.

As in the UNSC, all the other P-5 countries voted in favour of the resolution. Among the permanent members, China was the only one – besides the US – to read out a statement in the GA before the vote, ensuring its visibility in the Middle East peace process.

From India’s neighbourhood, Maldives, Pakistan and Bangladesh co-sponsored the resolution, as well as addressed the GA. Bangladesh’s permanent representative Masud Bin Momen said that Dhaka supported all efforts to resolve “protracted conflicts”, especially in the backdrop of its own regional crisis involving the Rohingya fleeing from Myanmar.

Just minutes after the resolution was passed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went live on his Facebook page to rail against the “preposterous resolution”. Jerusalem is our capital, always was and always will be. But I do appreciate the fact that a growing number of countries refuse to participate in this theater of the absurd,” he said.

During the session, the Israeli permanent representative to the UN, Danny Damon, held up a coin, which he said was from 67 BC and was inscribed with the words ‘Freedom of Zion’. Replicas of the coin were distributed to the UN delegates at the special session.

“Those who support today’s resolution are like puppets. You are puppets pulled by the strings of your Palestinian puppet masters. You are like marionettes forced to dance while the Palestinian leadership looks on with glee,” said Damon.

A view of Jerusalem. Credit: Dennis Jarvis/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

A view of Jerusalem. Credit: Dennis Jarvis/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

While the UN was deliberating on the resolution in New York, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh. According to Saudi Press Agency, they discussed ways to “intensify practical efforts to ensure the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and to establish their independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital”.

Abbas had hailed the passage of the resolution as a “victory of the Palestinian people”.

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When Trump had first announced the US’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and relocate the US embassy, India’s response had been rather muted. “India’s position on Palestine is independent and consistent. It is shaped by our views and interests, and not determined by any third country,” Indian spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said on December 7.

While officials stated that India’s position on Palestine was unchanged, the lack of reiteration of East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital did raise questions. The Israeli government had been satisfied with India’s public response, but the Palestinian ambassador believed that India could have given a stronger statement.

The ambassadors of Arab countries posted to Delhi had a pre-scheduled meeting with the minister of state for external affairs, M.J. Akbar, on December 11. Since it took place after the Jerusalem decision by the US, it figured naturally in the discussions.

According to a diplomatic source who was present at the meeting, there was no explicit demand made by the envoys to take a stronger position, but there was a reminder that India and Arab countries had signed the 2016 Manama Declaration, which had recognised East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital and the sanctity of UNSC resolutions.

The Indian representative did not give an explanation of the ‘yes’ vote on the floor of the UNGA, but officials claimed out that it wasn’t a surprising move – referring to a consistent voting pattern.

Before Thursday’s resolution, the UNGA passed 16 Palestine-related resolutions during its 72nd session over November and December. India voted in favour of 15 of them, while one was passed without a vote. For example, India in favour of the November 30 resolution which reiterated that any actions by Israel to impose its “laws, jurisdiction and administration” on Jerusalem were illegal and “therefore null and void”. Similarly, India had voted in favour of the December 19 GA resolution on the “Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination”.

Israeli media reports about the UNGA resolution did take note of India’s vote. “Notably, however, India – with whom Israel has forged very strong ties – voted for the measure,” said a Jerusalem Post article.

Similarly, Haaretz said, “Among the countries that voted in favor of the resolution are India, Russia and China, all countries Netanyahu has touted as allies recently.”

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