Will the UN challenge US threats over Jerusalem?

General Assembly to vote on decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israeli capital in face of unprecedented US intimidation.

Palestine protester
A protester in the West Bank waves her flag during clashes with Israeli security forces as protests continue over the US move on Jerusalem [Thomas Coex/AFP]

The United Nations General Assembly is due to vote on Washington’s controversial decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the face of unprecedented US intimidation.

Although the vote on Thursday will be non-binding, it is expected to pass easily in the 193-member UN body.

This prompted US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley to warn that she will be “taking names” of the states which vote against the decision, while President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off aid to these countries.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, dismissed Haley’s words.

“The world has changed,” he said. “The notion of ‘I am powerful therefore I am right’ has changed. Now the world is rising against the unfair.

“From now on, no honourable nation and no honourable state will bow to such pressure.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki echoed his Turkish counterpart.

“This is a new definition of world order in politics,” he said, “and it seems that the American administration are putting their stamp on [the] new political reality that many countries will reject.”

What will Saudi do?

According to Elie Jacobs, a consultant at the Truman National Security Project, there is a possibility for some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, to abstain.

“Saudi Arabia and the relationship the Saudis tried to court with Donald Trump could make [today’s vote] really interesting,” Jacobs told Al Jazeera.

“I can’t imagine they would vote against, but if they choose to abstain how many other Arab countries will decide to join them?” he continued. “It’s a big question, one that the Saudis themselves are trying to figure out right now.”

Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas was in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and met King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to shore up support for Thursday’s draft resolution.

According to the PA’s official news agency, Wafa, King Salman assured Abbas of “the Kingdom’s firm position on the Palestinian cause and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The General Assembly vote is reminiscent of a session in 2012, when an overwhelming majority backed Palestine’s upgrade in the UN to non-member state status.

Some 138 countries voted in support of the upgrade, while nine – including the US, Israel, Canada and several South Pacific countries – voted against.

Israel fostering relationships

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the UN a “house of lies”.

“The state of Israel rejects outright this vote, even before it passes,” he said at an opening ceremony of a hospital in southern Israel.

“The attitude to Israel of many nations in the world, in all the continents, is changing outside of the UN walls, and will eventually filter into the UN as well – the house of lies,” he said.

Jacobs said that Israel “has been working very hard over the last few years to improve relationships with other countries, particularly at the UN, to avoid these kind of blockbuster blowout votes.”

In recent years, a number of West African countries have grown closer to Israel.

In July, Netanyahu became the first non-African head of state to address the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit in Liberia.

Furthermore, Israel has taken great strides to cooperate with and provide aid to a number of African countries in the areas of technology, agriculture, development and security.

On the other hand, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party decided on Wednesday to downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel to a liaison office.

For his part, President Trump said that he will be watching the votes in the General Assembly. 

“They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care,” he said at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

‘A domestic policy decision’

In addition to recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump announced on December 6 that the US would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

No country currently has its embassy in the city, which is home to holy religious sites and has particular significance for Muslims, Christians and Jews.

On Monday, the US vetoed an Egyptian-sponsored UN Security Council resolution that asked countries not to establish diplomatic missions in Jerusalem.

The US was outnumbered 14 to 1 when it vetoed that resolution.

Jacobs said that one of the reasons Trump and Haley are pushing back is because this is a “domestic policy” decision.

“This is the fulfillment of a 22-year-old law that the US Congress passed on huge bipartisan majority,” he said, adding that is it a “widely popular” law.

“The idea that other countries should influence the way that America makes its decisions is really insulting to a lot of Americans, particularly this president,” he said.

The status of Jerusalem has long remained a sensitive topic and one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Palestinian leaders want occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, while Israel says the city cannot be divided.

Source: Al Jazeera