At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday, the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said President Donald Trump knew his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would raise “questions and concerns,” but that he took it to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I understand the concerns that members have in calling this session,” Haley said. “Change is hard.”
Washington’s move left it isolated as one after another fellow UN Security Council members — Russia, France, the UK, China, Egypt, Jordan and a host of others — condemned the announcement.
The debate unfolded at a largely symbolic emergency meeting of the council — no vote on a resolution was planned, as the US has veto power — two days after Trump reversed two decades of US policy on the holy city.
The meeting was convened by eight of the 14 non-US members of the council. It seemed a vivid show of the discord triggered by Trump’s announcement, which included plans to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Asked what he expected to come from the UN meeting, one diplomat said: “Nothing.” Another said the session would show US “isolation” on the issue.
Haley said Washington was more committed to peace “than we’ve ever been before — and we believe we might be closer to that goal than ever before.”
Haley said anyone who used Washington’s actions as a pretext for violence was “only showing” they were not partners for peace.
She noted that past Israeli-Palestinian agreements have been signed on the White House lawn, and that if there is a new agreement, there is “a good likelihood” it will be signed there as well, “because the United States has credibility of both sides.”
At the meeting, the UN coordinator for the Middle East peace process warned Security Council members of a risk of “violent escalation.”
Nickolay Mladenov warned that if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t resolved, “it risks being engulfed in the vortex of religious radicalism throughout the Middle East.”
Mladenov spoke of “a serious risk” of “a chain of unilateral actions” that would push the goal of peace further away. He pointed to the latest clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces and some calls for a new intifada, or uprising.
Mladenov also reiterated Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s words that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be resolved through direct negotiations and that “there is no Plan B to the two-state solution.”
Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour spoke of the “global consensus” against Washington’s recognition and said Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ultimately move the US embassy there should be reconsidered and rescinded.
“There can be no just and lasting solution to the Palestine question without a just solution” to Jerusalem, he said, calling the city “the heart of Palestine.”
Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon told the council the Trump declaration was “a positive step.”
He called on council members to “send a clear message there is never an excuse for violence. Violence must never be used as a threat.”
Danon said the recognition of Jerusalem “should serve as a reality check for the Palestinians and for the nations of the world” that “recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a critical and necessary step for peace.”
Danon held up an ancient coin from Jerusalem during his speech, and said that King David made Jerusalem his capital 3,000 years ago.
The British ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, said flat out that Britain disagreed with Trump’s move.
“These decisions are unhelpful for the prospects for peace in the region,” Rycroft said.
He urged Trump to now come up with detailed proposals for an Israel-Palestinian peace accord, a goal which has eluded the US and the international community for decades.
In a Wednesday address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.
The move was hailed by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.