After being vetoed by the US at the National Security Council, a motion to oppose member states putting their embassies in Jerusalem was taken to the General Assembly on December 21. It was overwhelmingly accepted (although Canada abstained). The voting pattern, and what was said, revealed a lot about what the world thinks about Palestine, Israel and Donald Trump. Read more….
Here are 13 observations about that UN vote.
1. The motion was about the Status of Jerusalem and did not refer to the USA by name. Here is the key paragraph: “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status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and in this regard, calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic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”.
2. The vote was overwhelming. 128 in favour, only 9 against. Those voting in favour included almost all the biggest countries in the world (China, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia), etc. Together they represent over 90% of humanity. There is an international consensus on this issue.
3. Not one of the “advanced democracies” voted to support USA/Israel. Even longtime allies of the US like Britain, Germany and France stood firm, voting FOR the resolution. Only 4 of the EU countries abstained.
4. Both of the US’s NAFTA partners (Canada and Mexico) abstained, but for different reasons. Mexico has been a longstanding supporter of human rights for Palestinians. This time they abstained, but few people think it’s because they have really changed their minds on the issue. Canada, on the other hand, has been a longstanding supporter of Israel. (Only a few weeks ago we voted with the USA/Israel against a huge UN majority.) No doubt Trump wanted Canada to support him this time and made it clear it was “personal”. But if we had voted with Trump and opposed the overwhelming will of the General Assembly in this very public vote, our chances of being elected to the Security Council next year would have been all but eliminated. I think Trudeau weighed his options and felt abstaining was his best bet.
5. Canada’s abstention was remarkable two other reasons. It flew in the face of a very intense lobbying effort by Canada’s Israel lobby, headed by CIJA, which repeatedly urged its supporters to write the government to support Israel/Trump. Furthermore, in his “explanatory” remarks after the vote, the Canadian ambassador indicated that Canada considers that Jerusalem is “important to all 3 Abrahamic religions”, a direct rebuff to CIJA which had been urging Canada to declare that Jews have a “special” relationship to Jerusalem unparalled by any other faith.
6. The USA threatened the very institution of the UN itself. In her remarks, the US ambassador not only repeated President Trump’s threats against countries who want US aid, she actually intimated that the US might reconsider funding of the United Nations itself! This raises the spectre of the US and Israel creating a new UN along with a few smaller nations, perhaps like Togo and Micronesia.
7. China opted to take a very public position, speaking at the podium in support of the motion. China is gaining an increasing profile on the world stage. The Chinese intervention was low key, repeating a 4 point peace proposal put forward by Chinese President Xi Jing Ping last year. The Chinese expression of support for the UN and for an international approach to resolving the Israel/Palestine issue is all the more significant in the face of the US implicit threat to cut off funds for the UN. Any US withdrawal can only lead to increased influence being exerted by its rivals.
8. The Holy See spoke in favour of the motion. The Vatican clearly indicated its commitment to a negotiated solution between the parties and underlined a Christian attachment to Jerusalem that is not comfortable with Trump’s proposal to put all of Jerusalem under the control of a “Jewish State”.
9. Twenty-one countries were “absent” for the vote. Many of the non-voters were developing African, countries with a history of anti-colonial struggles, but highly dependent on US aid and military support, like Zambia, Kenya and the Central African Republic. It is reasonable to assume that their sympathies were with the Palestinian. Their representatives must have felt humiliated in front of their developing country peers that their governments were not able to withstand US threats.
10. Afghanistan and Iraq both voted in support of the motion. Trump and his supporters must be furious that after spending trillions of dollars “liberating” Afghanistan and Iraq, their governments voted against him.
11. Other key US allies in the middle east, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, voted against Israel and the USA. This is spectacular, as the US and Israel were hoping to cobble together an anti-Iran alliance. Trump’s move seems to have set this back considerably. After Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the greatest recipients of US aid – and buyers of US arms – in the Middle East. US threats were not able to rein them in.
12. The Israeli ambassador made no friends. The Israeli ambassador’s condescending remarks were astonishing. He showed the assembly a two thousand year old coin proving Jews lived in Jerusalem, a fact that nobody denies. (Jesus was a Jew, after all.) He called those countries supporting the motion “puppets” of the Palestinian Authority. That must have surprised (and angered) many countries, including China, India, Brazil etc., over whom the Palestinians have no possible leverage.
13. The Palestinian foreign minister didn’t propose anything new. Speaking to a very sympathetic audience, representing 90% of humanity, the Palestinian spokesperson didn’t even ask anybody to DO anything except continue to support a “peace process” which has produced little result over several decades.
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