A resounding majority of United Nations member states has defied unprecedented threats by the US to approve a draft resolution rejecting President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The non-binding measure passed at a UN General Assembly emergency meeting on Thursday with 128 votes in favor and nine against, while 35 countries abstained.
It passed despite intimidation by Trump, who had threatened on Wednesday to eliminate financial aid to UN members who would vote against his decision.
“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,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
His comments came as Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, warned that she would be “taking names” of states that vote against Washington’s Jerusalem move.
The session on Thursday at the 193-member body was held at the request of Arab and Muslim countries after the US vetoed the same measure in the Security Council on Monday.
The US was outnumbered 14 to 1 in that vote.
While the Security Council’s five permanent members – the US, Britain, France, China and Russia – had veto power on Monday’s vote, there are no vetoes at the General Assembly.
Similar to the Egyptian-drafted text that was blocked by Washington on Monday, the draft resolution approved on Thursday did not mention the US by name but expressed “deep regret at recent decisions” concerning Jerusalem’s status.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said most UN member states that voted in favor of the draft resolution did not necessarily do so to support the Palestinians but to back “international legality”.
“They voted for what they saw as a violation of international law,” he said.
“The resolution starts by naming several UN Security Council resolutions, where the US either voted for or abstained, saying that Israel cannot annex East Jerusalem; that Israel cannot export its own population to East Jerusalem; that Israel cannot continue with the settlement building in East Jerusalem and so on,” he added.
“All in all, 128 countries voted for international law.”
In addition to recognizing 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.
The US decision triggered a series of protests in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as major international cities – from Jakarta, through Istanbul, to Rabat.
Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had 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.
The status of Jerusalem has long remained a sensitive topic and one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
After occupying the city’s eastern part in the 1967 War, Israel annexed the territory. In 1980, it proclaimed it as its “eternal, undivided capital.”
The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, however, see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
They have warned that any change to the status quo would mean the end of the peace process premised on a two-state solution.
Thursday’s vote was 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.