UNITED NATIONS (REUTERS) - More than 120 countries, including Singapore, defied President Donald Trump on Thursday (Dec 21) and voted in favour of a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for the United States to drop its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that voted in favour. A total of 128 countries backed the resolution, which is non-binding, nine voted against and 35 abstained. Twenty-one countries did not cast a vote.
Trump’s threat appeared to have some impact, with more countries abstaining and rejecting the resolution than usually associated with Palestinian-related resolutions.
Nevertheless, Washington found itself isolated, as many of its Western and Arab allies voted for the measure. Some of those allies, such as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, are major recipients of US military or economic aid, although the US threat to cut aid did not single out any country.
A spokesman for Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the vote “a victory for Palestine". Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the vote.
Earlier this month, Trump reversed decades of US policy by announcing that the United States recognised Jerusalem – home to major Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites – as the capital of Israel and would move its embassy there.
“The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation,” US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, told the 193-member General Assembly ahead of Thursday’s vote.
“We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations, and so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit,” she said.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, who were furious over Trump’s move. The international community does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the full city.
French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre said in a statement: “The resolution adopted today only confirms relevant international law provisions on Jerusalem.” France voted in favour.
Singapore also voted in favour.
Netanyahu described the resolution as “preposterous".
“ Jerusalem is our capital, always was, always will be. But I do appreciate the fact that a growing number of countries refuse to participate in this theatre of the absurd,” he said a video on his Facebook page.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in a 1967 war and Palestinians want it as the capital of a future state they seek.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet that the vote was a clear international rejection of the Trump administration’s “thuggish intimidation".
Among the countries that abstained on Thursday were Australia, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan.
Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Nauru and Togo joined the United States and Israel in voting "no".
Honduras’ vote against the motion comes after the United States signalled it would recognise President Juan Orlando Hernandez as the winner of an election the Organisation of America States said should be scrapped over fraud claims.
Since Trump’s election, Mexico has aligned its foreign policy more closely with Washington in what diplomats say is an attempt to curry favour in the face of threats to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).
Trump’s rhetoric on cutting aid startled some US allies, but State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said Thursday’s vote was just one factor that Washington would take into consideration in its foreign policy.
“I just wanted to reiterate what the President had said yesterday and that... the UN vote is really not the only factor that the administration would take into consideration in dealing with our foreign relations and countries who have chosen to vote one way or the other,” she told reporters.
According to figures from the US government’s aid agency USAID, in 2016, the United States provided some US$13 billion (S$17.5 billion) in economic and military assistance to countries in sub-Saharan Africa and US$1.6 billion to states in East Asia and Oceania.
It provided some US$13 billion to countries in the Middle East and North Africa, US$6.7 billion to countries in South and Central Asia, US$1.5 billion to states in Europe and Eurasia and US$2.2 billion to Western Hemisphere countries, according to USAID.
The General Assembly vote was called at the request of Arab and Muslim countries after the United States vetoed the same resolution on Monday in the 15-member UN Security Council.
The remaining 14 Security Council members voted in favour of the Egyptian-drafted resolution, which did not specifically mention the United States or Trump but which expressed “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem".
Thursday’s resolution “affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded".
The UN action comes a year after the Security Council adopted a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements.
That was approved with 14 votes in favour and an abstention by former US president Barack Obama’s administration, which defied heavy pressure from long-time ally Israel and Trump, who was then president-elect, for Washington to wield its veto.