UNITED NATIONS • As a majority of the UN's 193 member states were set to vote to reject America's recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blasted the UN as a "house of lies".
"The State of Israel rejects outright this vote," Mr Netanyahu said at a ceremony 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."
His remarks follow threats by US President Donald Trump and his Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley this week of reprisals for countries backing the proposed motion.
"They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us," Mr 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."
Ms Haley warned countries in a letter this week that Mr Trump would be watching the vote carefully, and said on Twitter the US "will be taking names" at the vote.
The UN General Assembly held an emergency session yesterday (early this morning Singapore time) to vote on the motion. The US had vetoed a similar move put forward by Egypt at the Security Council on Monday, after all the other 14 council members voted in favour.
Mr Trump's decision on Dec 6 to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and declare his intention to move the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv broke with decades of US policy and international consensus.
It also unleashed protests across the Arab and Muslim world. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia leader Abdul Hadi Awang are set to share the stage at a rally in support of the Palestinians in Kuala Lumpur today.
The draft UN resolution Turkey and Yemen circulated on behalf of Arab countries and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) did not mention Mr Trump's decision, but expressed "deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem". It reaffirmed earlier UN resolutions on the holy city and said its fate must be resolved through negotiations, adding any other decision on its status has no legal effect and must be rescinded.
Israel seized control of the eastern part of the city during the Six-Day War in 1967 and later annexed it, claiming both sides of the city as its "eternal and undivided capital".
Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Yesterday, Mr Netanyahu thanked Mr Trump and Ms Haley for "standing by Israel and the truth". "Jerusalem is our capital, we will continue to build in it and embassies of countries, led by the US, will move to Jerusalem," he said.
"Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, whether the UN recognises it or not," he added. "It took 70 years until the US officially recognised it and it will take many more years until the UN recognises it too."
However, diplomats at the UN expect strong support for the resolution, despite US pressure to either abstain, vote against it or simply not turn up. An annual vote at the General Assembly this week saw members vote 163-6 to affirm Palestinians' right to self-determination, suggesting the support level the draft resolution could command.
While resolutions by the General Assembly are non-binding, a strong vote in support of it would carry political weight. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki accused Washington of "threatening" member states, saying the move would show "how many countries will opt to vote with their conscience".
Said a senior diplomat from a Muslim country: "States resort to such blatant bullying only when they know they do not have a moral or legal argument to convince others."
A senior Western diplomat described it as "poor tactics" at the UN "but pretty good for Haley 2020 or Haley 2024", referring to speculation she might run for higher office.
A senior European diplomat said "this type of letter is definitely not helping to establish US leadership in the Middle East peace process".
Bolivia's Ambassador to the UN Sacha Sergio Llorenty Soliz added: "We regret the arrogance and disrespect to the sovereign decision of member states and to multilateralism."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS