Once upon a time, the United States of America used to be characterized as a school bully. A bully who through force, coercion or persuasion would get whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Alas, we are well past that characterization. In fact, the present, most accurate characterization of Trump and his country’s international profile is of the sullen, rich kid who makes enemies with whoever he talks to in class. The ongoing issue with respect to the US recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy there is no exception.
Late in the evening, on the 21st of December, the United Nations General Assembly has called an emergency vote, a vote on a resolution condemning the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as being an obstacle to the Middle East peace process and the two-state solution most of the world has built consensus on.
This comes after weeks of protests and unrest in Palestine and rest of the Middle East after Trump’s declaration on the subject. In one instant, President Trump alienated much of the Arab world including many allies such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. Further, the UN Security Council even voted on a UNSC resolution condemning the same. And of course, it failed. 14-1 in favor of such a resolution, and it failed. The veto to the rescue yet again.
The UNGA resolution promises to be one to watch as well. Sure, the resolution, unlike a UNSC one, is non-binding on any nation-state involved but, it will be yet another diplomatic blunder in President Trump’s short tenure. What has made the vote interesting is the ‘threat’ issued by President Trump and the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.
“As you consider your vote, I want you to know that the President and US take this vote personally,” Haley said. “The President will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us. We will take note of each and every vote on this issue. At the UN we’re always asked to do more & give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American people, about where to locate OUR embassy, we don’t expect those we’ve helped to target us. On Thurs there’ll be a vote criticizing our choice. The US will be taking names.”
Backing Haley up Trump stated, “We’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they’re doing.”
Why the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?
Why is Trump so adamant about recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? Because it was a poll promise promised to his base. A significant portion of his base, a mixed group of Jewish and Christian orthodoxy and evangelicals have always opposed the fifty-year-old American policy in Israel. Trump’s willingness to disrupt this status quo is manna from heaven for them. And Trump, always ready for validation and an ego boost is ready to go through with it. This, despite 66% of the American people opposing the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Will the resolution pass?
YES. YES. YES.
The United States is looking at a massive defeat and a diplomatic self-goal as the UN General Assembly resolution condemning its decision is bound to pass convincingly, experts say. For a long time now, the consensus among most nation-states is that the two-state solution is at the center of the Middle East peace process. The US’s decision is a direct obstacle to this resolve as recognizing it as Israel’s capital refutes the Palestinian’s claim to Jerusalem. Nikki Haley is right. Yes, the US has a right to move embassies and recognize capitals independently of the better judgment of the rest of the world. But, at what cost?
Despite the not so subtly veiled threat issued by Haley and Trump, the UNGA resolution should pass. The United States’ threat was directed at those nation-states who are receivers of the US’s foreign aid and military, developmental assistance. These include Israel and much of the Middle East such as Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan and a lot of African countries.
The above countries, if Trump’s threat is taken seriously, have the most to lose if they vote against the American position at the UN. However, they are all likely to vote in favor of the resolution. Most of the recipient states are Muslim-majority nation-states to whom the American decision was almost a personal affront. Even if their heads of states were willing to vote against or even abstain from voting in favor of the resolution, they would face immense pressure domestically. And considering the instability of the region, it won’t take much for domestic pressure to translate into something more.
If Trump does indeed carry out the threat, it would give another opportunity for China and its dragons to take the United States’ place and become the foremost donor of the developing world. Beijing may soon overtake the US in its friends and influence across the world.
There’s also the matter of how important the states most likely to vote in favor of the resolution are to the national security interests of the United States. Is Trump serious enough to name, shame and sanction a country like Turkey, a country where the US has placed nuclear missiles in the past just because they voted in favor of a resolution condemning them? Time will tell.
What will India do? Well, India was deliberately ambiguous in the immediate aftermath of the American decision. India has historically been close to the Palestinian cause but has since the 90s, become closer to Israel, even becoming one of Israel’s largest arms markets. India will in all probability abstain, treading the fine line of diplomacy and alienating none of the parties involved. It’s not the right thing to do but alas, such is international diplomacy.
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