The Trump administration angered much of the world earlier this month by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. A startling UN Security Council vote Monday showed how far America’s closest allies are willing to go to try to force the White House to change course.
The diplomatic fight flared after 14 of the 15 members of the UN Security Council approved a measure “expressing deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem,” a clear nod to the Trump administration.
The US immediately vetoed the resolution, but the overwhelming margin of the initial vote highlighted the administration’s growing isolation over Jerusalem. The measure was drafted by Egypt, one of the Trump administration’s closest allies in the Arab world, and drew support from Britain, France, and other nations with longstanding and warm ties to Washington.
The measure didn’t explicitly refer to the US, but there was no question that it was directed at the White House. The measure stressed that “Jerusalem is an issue to be resolved through negotiations” and “calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem.” That was a diplomatic shot at the administration, which announced plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem earlier in December.
The Trump administration knew precisely who the measure was targeting, and fired back quickly.
“The United states will not be told by any country where we can put our embassy,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said after the US veto.
It’s extremely rare for the UN Security Council to pass measures targeting the US, let alone ones that require the US to veto the resolution itself rather than assuming one of its allies would do so instead.
That Washington had to step into the breach itself highlights the extraordinary sensitivity surrounding Jerusalem, which has sites holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and which both the Palestinians and the Israelis claim as their capital.
The question of how the city will be divided up — or if it will be divided up at all — will be arguably the most important issue if, or when, peace talks between the two sides resume.
Trump has made the fight over Jerusalem even more dangerous
When Trump made his December 6 speech recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he broke with decades of bipartisan American foreign thinking about the city’s future. Presidents of both parties have supported the idea of creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with the final status of Jerusalem to be decided as part of a peace agreement between the two sides. In a step, Trump seemed to basically hand the city to Israel.
Trump’s language during his speech wasn’t quite as inflammatory as it could’ve been. As Vox’s Sarah Wildman pointed out at the time of the announcement, Trump didn’t call Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel — suggesting the US would still support potentially dividing Jerusalem between the Israelis and the Palestinians as part of future peace negotiations.
But the move — along with the announcement that the US would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — sparked outcry in the international community and further polarized one of the most contentious territorial disputes in the world.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday that he intends to open an embassy in East Jerusalem — the part of the city that Palestinians officially want to make the capital of a future Palestinian state. That came days after he used a speech to a gathering of Muslim leaders to call for the world to see Eastern Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.
A statement signed by more than 50 Muslim-majority countries at that summit declared that the US had lost its role as “sponsor of peace” in the Middle East.
And last week in a speech Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that Trump’s Jerusalem announcement was a “crime” and that he no longer wants the US to broker peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
The government of Israel praised the administration for vetoing the UN measure, just as it had celebrated Trump’s initial announcement about recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
In a recorded video statement after the veto, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likened Haley to a Maccabi, one of the ancient Jewish warriors currently being venerated as part of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah.
“On Hanukkah, you spoke like a Maccabi,” he said. “You lit a candle of truth. You dispel the darkness. One defeated the many. Truth defeated lies. Thank you, President Trump. Thank you, Nikki Haley."