It came as a surprise to absolutely nobody that the US on Monday vetoed a United Nations Security Council draft resolution condemning its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
No one, not even the Egyptian sponsors of the resolution, believed for a second that the administration of President Donald Trump would allow a resolution to pass that expressed “deep regret” over his December 6 statement, and which declared that his words “have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded.”
Israeli leaders praised US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s raising her hand opposing the draft resolution. “On Hanukkah, you spoke like a Maccabee. You lit a candle of truth. You dispel the darkness. One defeated the many. Truth defeated lies,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
“Nothing could be more honorable. The Jewish people will not forget,” Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren tweeted.
But the fact that the resolution was dead on arrival in the Security Council does not mean that it cannot become a veritable nuisance to Israel and the US elsewhere.
Jerusalem may remain Israel’s capital no matter what the UN says, but the cost of maintaining that stance alone against the world will leave America and Israel looking more and more like international rebels.
After the US was forced to stand alone against 14 other countries, many of them allies, to sink the resolution on Monday, the administration and Israel can expect to be overwhelmingly isolated again against an even larger crowd later this week.
The Palestinians, having anticipated an American veto, have announced their intention to take the resolution to the UN General Assembly, where there is no veto, but also no actual legal ramifications.
Speaking to the Security Council minutes after the vote, the Palestinian envoy to the UN in New York, Riyad Mansour, said the international community “will find other frameworks for its position in the days to come.”
Even in the unlikely event that Haley had somehow fallen asleep at the wheel and allowed the Security Council resolution to pass, it should be noted, the body does not have the power to revoke or rescind Trump’s decision.
The US, as a sovereign state, decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That is its prerogative, just as Ankara can recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and Moscow can recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“The United States has a sovereign right to determine where and whether we establish an embassy,” Haley said after the vote, in the second of her two stirring addresses to the Security Council. “I suspect very few member states would welcome Security Council pronouncements about their sovereign decisions.”
Nonetheless on Monday, 14 out of 15 voting countries — Britain, China, France, Russia, Bolivia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Senegal, Sweden, Ukraine and Uruguay — supported a text that urged all states not to open diplomatic missions in Jerusalem, arguing that the city’s status must not be changed before a final-status peace deal.
At the General Assembly, the depth of the American-Israeli isolation on this matter will be on full display, with almost all of the 193 member states expected to back a similar text.
A resolution denying that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital would have a strong optical impact, just as the US vetoing a measure supported by 14 other states did.
And it would send a strong message that Netanyahu’s claim that other states will follow the US’s lead is nothing but a pipe dream.
Israeli officials are currently downplaying the significance of the UN votes, saying that Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital even if the entire world declares otherwise.
But if Trump’s move was meant to cement international legitimacy for Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital, a widely backed General Assembly vote declaring it null and void might achieve the exact opposite.