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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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UN vote slams US on Jerusalem

Dec. 22, 2017

More than 120 countries have defied the United States and voted overwhelmingly in favor of a UN draft resolution rejecting the United States' recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Thursday's vote came amid threats by US President Donald Trump to cut financial aid to countries that supported the resolution.

During a rare emergency session, 128 countries, including Japan, voted in favor of the non-binding vote. The US, Israel and 7 other countries voted against. 35 members abstained. A senior Palestinian official says the results show the international community stood up for what is right.

"128 countries told the US and Israel that what they are doing is wrong and unacceptable, and they voted for Jerusalem, they voted for the UN as an institution of integrity."
Hanan Ashrawi / Palestine Liberation Organization

Meanwhile Israel's prime minister says he's disappointed by the results.

"Israel completely rejects this preposterous resolution. Jerusalem is our capital, always was, always will be. "
Benjamin Netanyahu / Israeli Prime Minister

Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital although the international community doesn't recognize that claim. The Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths all have holy sites in the city.

Ahead of the vote, the US ambassador to the UN defended Trump's policy shift to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"America will put our embassy in Jerusalem. That is what the American people want us to do, and it is the right thing to do."
Nikki Haley / US Ambassador to United Nations

Earlier this week the US vetoed a similar resolution by the UN Security Council.

After Thursday's resolution was adopted, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga had this to say.

"Japan has always supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The final status of Jerusalem should be determined through negotiations between the two nations concerned, based on their mutual agreements as well as relevant UN Security Council resolutions adopted so far. Japan voted in favor of the latest resolution based on this position."
Yoshihide Suga / Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary


Joining us now is NHK’s senior international news commentator, Sho Beppu.

Nakayama: How do you see the voting results?

Beppu: I think the large number of countries that supported the resolution is meaningful. When 128 states vote for a resolution, which is basically two-thirds of the UN member states, it's natural to interpret that as the voice of the international community. I think it's also important to note that the support did not come only from Arab states, but also from major US allies, such as Japan, the UK, France and Germany.

At the end of the day, a large part of diplomacy is about perceptions. In this context, I don’t see that the Americans did a good job. What came across was America’s diplomatic isolation.

First, the majority of member states supported the resolution, despite the threat from the American president to retaliate by cutting financial aid to countries that don’t agree with Washington’s new position on Jerusalem’s status.

Secondly, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, made a remark ahead of the voting underlining the fact that the US is the largest financial contributor to the UN. She said: “When we make generous contributions to the US, we also have a legitimate expectation that our good will is recognized. We have an obligation to demand more for our investment.” But looking at the voting results, her remarks, together with her president’s threat about cutting aid, overtly talking about money, failed to persuade most other member states.

Nakayama: We see US allies also backing the resolution, ignoring Washington’s demand. And that includes Japan. Why did Tokyo vote for this resolution?

Beppu: Japan also voted for a similar resolution at the Security Council earlier this week, when the US was the only country to vote against it using its veto power. Tokyo’s position is to support a two-state solution, whereby Israel and a future independent Palestine state live side by side in peace and security.

The official stance is that the status of Jerusalem should be decided through negotiations based on relevant UN resolutions, and so on.

Officials in Prime Minister Abe’s government are explaining that the vote to support the resolutions comes from these basic positions.

I think it's also fair to point out Japan’s economic interests with the Middle East -- particularly the fact that Japan imports a majority of its oil -- in fact over 80% --from the Middle East. Having said that, officials in Tokyo wouldn't have found it easy to vote against Washington, particularly given the importance of the relations the two countries have in the fields of defense and the economy. It's understood that officials here carefully studied how other US allies would vote and tried not to stand out.

Nakayama: How do you see this issue evolving from now on?

Beppu: That's a very difficult question to answer. Some may argue that the resolutions of the General Assembly have no legal binding power -- unlike the decisions taken by the Security Council -- and therefore have only symbolic meaning. But symbolism does make a difference in the long run.

When it comes to the developments in the Arab street, the issue doesn’t really seem to have caught fire, despite the ongoing protests. Similarly, the region’s heads of states don’t sound particularly vocal against Trump’s decision, either. This may be because it's understood that it will take years for the US to actually move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- due to technical reasons, first of all -- and that makes people think that the US might change its position if a new administration is elected.

Having said that, I think the damage is already starting to be felt. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is widely seen, as we've been discussing, as a departure from the international consensus on this matter. So it will surely have an impact on the US role as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. The prospect of peace negotiations has become even darker.