By Rick Gladstone
UNITED NATIONS – The overwhelming majority of the world’s nations delivered a stinging rebuke to the United States on Thursday, denouncing its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ignoring President Trump’s bombastic threats of revenge.
In what amounted to a collective act of defiance toward Washington, ambassadors of the 193-member General Assembly voted 128-9, with 35 abstentions, to approve a nonbinding resolution demanding that the United States rescind the Dec. 6 decision on Jerusalem, the contested holy city, which also included a plan to relocate the American Embassy there.
“History records names, it remembers names – the names of those who stand by what is right and the names of those who speak falsehood,” said Riad Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister. “Today we are seekers of rights and peace.”
Israel denounced the vote, likening it to a 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism, a decision that was repealed in 1991 after intensive lobbying by the United States. “It’s shameful that this meeting is even taking place,” Israel’s envoy to the United Nations, Danny Danon, told the body.
The General Assembly resolution, drafted by Yemen and Turkey, cited numerous past resolutions on Jerusalem and urged nations to “refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions.” The consensus under international law is that East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since 1967, should be the future capital of a Palestinian state.
Diplomats brushed aside what appeared to be a hastily organized pressure campaign by the White House, including last-minute threats by President Trump to cut off aid to countries voting for the resolution.
“We will not be threatened,” Malki, one of several diplomats who spoke before the vote, told the General Assembly at an emergency meeting. He said the United States had insisted on “ignoring the dangerous repercussions of its decision.”
The Israeli government was equally defiant in the run-up to the vote. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, speaking at the dedication of a new hospital in the city of Ashdod, declared that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, whether the U.N. recognizes it or not.”
The outcome, which many diplomats said privately was a foregone conclusion, deepened Trump’s isolation over the issue, threatened to alienate Arab allies of the United States and may have further complicated prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The vote also reflected resentment toward threats by Trump and his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley. They had warned that any country supporting the resolution risked a cutoff in aid.
Haley amplified those threats in her speech before the vote, suggesting the United States, the biggest single contributor to the U.N. budget, may reduce its largesse going forward.
Trump’s decision, she said, “reflects our right as a nation to choose the location of our embassy.”
“The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly,” Haley said. “We will remember it when called upon once again to make the largest contribution to the United Nations.”
The willingness of other countries to ignore or play down such threats suggested they had concluded that Trump was making them for domestic political reasons. It is also difficult to see how he could make good on a vow to cut financial assistance to important allies like Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.
Nonetheless, the overwhelming rejection of the American shift of position on Jerusalem, on the world’s biggest diplomatic stage, was a setback for a president who is still looking for a major foreign achievement after nearly a year on the job.
Carrying out a promise to his base of supporters, Trump upended decades of U.S. policy with the decision on Jerusalem, aggravating an emotional issue that has festered since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war when the Israelis occupied the entire city.
Many Security Council resolutions since then, which have the force of international law, have warned that Jerusalem’s status is unresolved, that claims of sovereignty by Israel are invalid and that the issue must be settled in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The General Assembly resolution does not mention the United States by name, but it calls for a “reversal of the negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-state solution.”
It also demanded that all states comply with the resolutions concerning Jerusalem and called upon them to “refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions” there.
The General Assembly resolution was introduced a few days after a nearly identical resolution in the 15-member Security Council had been vetoed by the United States – the lone no vote – an outcome that stoked Trump’s anger.
“All of these nations that take our money and then they vote against us at the Security Council or they vote against us, potentially, at the Assembly, they take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us,” Trump said on Wednesday.
“Well, we’re watching those votes,” he said. “Let them vote against us; we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”
On Tuesday, Haley sent an email to General Assembly members, urging them to back the United States on the issue.
She argued that Trump’s Jerusalem declaration had not prejudged the outcome of any negotiations and “does not foreclose any of the options considered by Israelis and Palestinians for decades.”
But she also invoked a threat by Trump, writing: “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.”
It was not the first time that Haley had used this language at the United Nations. Soon after taking her post in January, she said, “You’re going to see a change in the way we do business.” The United States, she said, would back its allies and expected their backing in return. “For those who don’t have our back,” she added, “we’re taking names.”