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UN votes decisively to reject US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Majority of member states vote in favour of resolution after Nikki Haley warns US could pull funding from the UN
Riyad Mansour (C), Palestine's Ambassador to the UN, and his delegation celebrate the results of the UN vote on Jerusalem (AFP)

In a "massive setback" to US President Donald Trump's Middle East foreign policy, the vast majority of UN member-states voted on Thursday in favour of a motion rejecting Washington's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Trump had threatened to cut funding to countries that back the measure. 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the vote "a victory for Palestine," and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Trump must rescind his Jerusalem decision.

But Israel and the US denounced the resolution. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said the United States is being attacked in the General Assembly for exercising its rights as a sovereign nation. 

One-hundred and twenty-eight member states voted in favour of the motion, with nine opposing and 35 abstaining.

The nine countries which opposed were Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Togo and the US.

Final vote on resolution to reject US decision on Jerusalem (UN/Screenshot)
Abbas welcomed the results saying through a spokesman that the decision "reaffirms once again that the just Palestinian cause enjoys the support of international law, and no decision by any party can change the reality".

Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour highlighted the significance of the vote count. 

"One hundred twenty-eight versus nine - that's a massive setback for the United States of America," Mansour said.

Ahead of the vote, Haley said the General Assembly's decision "would be remembered," coming on the heels of Trump's threat to cut aid to countries that supported the vote.

“The US is by far the single largest contributor the UN and its agencies," said Haley. “When we make generous contributions to the UN, we also have a legitimate expectation that our goodwill is recognised and respected.

"America will put our embassy in Jerusalem. No vote will make a difference."

Haley warned that the resolution could cause the US to pull funding from the UN. “If our investment fails, we have an obligation to spend our investment in other ways.

"This vote will be remembered."

All Arab states, including chief US allies, voted in favour of the UN resolution on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the foreign minister of Bahrain Khalid al-Khalifa, had cast doubt over the tiny Gulf island’s commitment to the General Assembly’s measure.

“It’s not helpful to pick a fight with the USA over side issues while we together fight the clear and present danger of The Theo-Fascist Islamic republic,” he tweeted.

But Bahrain, along with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, ended up voting in favour of the resolution.

Jordan, a recipient of US aid that enjoys close ties to Washington, had been vocal in rejecting Trump’s decision.

On Thursday, a senior diplomatic source told Al Jazeera that Amman will not back down from its position, and that King Abdullah considers Jerusalem a priority. 

'An unprecedented test'

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, addressing the assembly as the session was underway, appealed for support and referred to America's warning that it was "taking names" among countries that oppose it at the UN.

"This organisation is now undergoing an unprecedented test," al-Malki said.

"History records names, it remembers names - the names of those who stand by what is right and the names of those who speak falsehood. Today we are seekers of rights and peace."

Turlkey’s Erdogan also took aim at Washington’s threat to cut aid for countries that back the UN measure.

"I am calling on the whole world: never sell your democratic will in return for petty dollars," he had said in a televised speech in Ankara before the vote. 

Trump's decision on 6 December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital broke with international consensus and unleashed protests across the Muslim world, prompting a flurry of appeals to the United Nations. 

The status of the Holy City is one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A draft resolution rejecting the US move was sent to the General Assembly after it was vetoed by Washington at the Security Council on Monday, although all other 14 council members voted in favour.

Israel's envoy to the UN vowed that his country would never be "driven" from Jerusalem by UN member states and said the countries voting in favour were "puppets" of the Palestinians.

"No General Assembly resolution will ever drive us from Jerusalem," Ambassador Danny Danon told an emergency session of the 193-nation assembly.

Danon opened his speech by holding up a coin, which he claimed was from the second temple in Biblical times, to prove continued Jewish presence in Jerusalem.

Close watch

Trump warned that Washington would closely watch how nations voted on Thursday, suggesting there could be financial reprisals for countries that back the motion put forward by Yemen and Turkey on behalf of Arab and Muslim countries.

"They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us," Trump said at the White House.

"Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care."

Erdogan accused Trump of making "threats".

"How do they call America? The cradle of democracy. The cradle of democracy is seeking to find will in the world that can be bought with dollars," he said. "Mr Trump you cannot buy with dollars Turkey's democratic will. Our decision is clear."

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also hailed the vote, accusing Trump of aiming to intimidate UN member states.

"A resounding global NO to Trump regime's thuggish intimidation at #UN," he wrote on Twitter. 

'House of lies'

The draft resolution mirrored the text that was vetoed on Monday, and although it did not mention Trump's decision, it expressed "deep regret at recent decisions" concerning the city's status. 

Ahead of the vote, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the UN as a "house of lies," saying Israel "rejects outright this vote, even before it passes".

"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.

Diplomats had expected strong support for the resolution, which is non-binding, despite US pressure to either abstain, vote against it or simply not turn up for the vote. 

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