After UNSC vote, Russia offers to replace US as ‘honest’ Mideast mediator

Turkey and UK criticize Washington’s actions regarding Jerusalem, while Jewish groups mostly praise Trump administration’s stance

Russia's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Vladimir Safronkov speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, on December 18, 2017, at UN headquarters in New York. (AFP Photo/Kena Betancur)
Russia's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Vladimir Safronkov speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, on December 18, 2017, at UN headquarters in New York. (AFP Photo/Kena Betancur)

Russia on Monday said it was ready to become “an honest mediator” between the Israelis and Palestinians, a role the United States has played for years, after a vote at the UN Security Council showed the depth of global opposition to US recognition of Jerusalem.

Washington vetoed a resolution supported by the 14 other Council members that would have required President Donald Trump to rescind his declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said it was becoming more important to move “as quickly as possible towards direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.” He reiterated Russia’s proposal to hold a summit between the Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

“We are ready to become an honest mediator here,” he said.

He also reiterated Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s call for the Security Council to conduct “a comprehensive review of the situation in the Middle East.”

The United States had been certain to veto the Egyptian-sponsored resolution, but its Arab supporters wanted the vote to demonstrate that countries everywhere and even many US allies such as Britain, France and Japan are against Trump’s action.

Nikki Haley voting against a Security Council decision on Jerusalem on December 18, 2017. (Eskinder Debebe/UN)

Turkey criticized the US veto, saying Washington had lost its “impartiality” in the Middle East.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said the fact that the resolution was approved by the 14 other Security Council members was “the most concrete indication of the illegitimacy” of the US decision on Jerusalem. The statement added that the veto had left the UN Security Council “in a state of failure” and said Turkey would continue to stand by the “Palestinian state and its people.”

British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said “The status of Jerusalem should be determined through a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and should ultimately be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states.”

The Palestinians immediately announced that they would seek a resolution with similar demands in the 193-member General Assembly, where there are no vetoes. But unlike the Security Council, the assembly’s resolutions are not legally binding.

Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour told reporters after meeting with the General Assembly president that he expected a vote this week. He said he hoped for “overwhelming support.”

Palestinian envoy to the UN Riyad Mansour at the UN Security Council, December 8, 2017 (United Nations)

Several Jewish groups praised Washington’s veto.

The Republican Jewish Coalition thanked the administration for making a “stand for truth, justice, and peace.” The Orthodox Union said it “applauds” the US “standing by its ally.”

Meanwhile the liberal J Street was less effusive.

“Israel’s capital is in Jerusalem and it should be internationally recognized as such in the context of an agreed two-state solution,” the group said. “The administration’s move has only made that solution harder to achieve.”

US Ambassador Nikki Haley called the Security Council resolution “an insult” that won’t be forgotten, saying the United Nations forced the US to cast a veto simply because of its right to decide where to put its embassy. She said the veto — the first cast by the US in more than six years — was done “in defense of American sovereignty and in defense of America’s role in the Middle East peace process.”

Haley, explaining the US veto, castigated the response to the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital: “The President took great care not to prejudge final status negotiations in any way, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. That remains a subject to be negotiated only by the parties. That position is fully in line with the previous Security Council resolutions, ” she noted.

“The President was also careful to state that we support the status quo regarding Jerusalem’s holy sites, and we support a two-state solution if that’s what the parties agree to. Again, these positions are fully consistent with the previous Security Council resolutions. It is highly regrettable that some are trying to distort the President’s position to serve their own agendas.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the US for using its veto in a video posted to Facebook.

He said Haley “lit a candle of truth” and dispelled “lies.”

Netanyahu compared Haley to the Maccabees, Jewish warriors commemorated during the current Jewish holiday of Hannukah for revolting against Hellenic rulers, rededicating the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and establishing a Jewish Kingdom in Judea.

In Netanyahu’s words, “One defeated the many, truth defeated lies.”

The vetoed resolution would have demanded that all countries comply with 10 resolutions on Jerusalem, dating back to 1967, including requirements that the city’s final status be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

It would also have affirmed 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.”

Trump broke with decades of US neutrality on Jerusalem on December 6 when he declared that the United States recognizes the city as Israel’s capital and will move its embassy there. Trump insisted that after repeated peace failures it was past time for a new approach, saying his decision was merely based on reality.

Abbas, in some of his sharpest rhetoric since Trump’s announcement, reiterated in public comments to senior Palestinian officials Monday that he will no longer accept the US as a Mideast mediator.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a press conference following a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on last week’s US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, on December 13, 2017, in Istanbul. (AFP PHOTO / YASIN AKGUL)

He said “a crazy person wouldn’t accept” that role for Washington after Trump’s action.

The status of Jerusalem has been a central issue in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Trump’s announcement was widely perceived as taking the side of Israel. It countered an international consensus that Jerusalem’s status should be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Trump’s announcement triggered denunciations and demonstrations around the world. Abbas’s Fatah movement and other groups organized mass protests while its rival, the Gaza-based Hamas, has called for a third violent uprising against Israel.

Trump has been working on a new Mideast peace plan and says he remains committed to brokering a deal, despite the Jerusalem move.

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