In a sharp reproach to the Trump administration, the United Nations overwhelmingly voted Thursday for a resolution meant to condemn the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, ignoring President Trump’s last-minute threats to punish countries that voted against Washington’s position.
The General Assembly approved the resolution by a vote of 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions, in an emergency session. The resolution was nonbinding, but it was a powerful signal that the White House and Israel remain deeply isolated on an issue of global concern but one that is popular with Trump’s base.
The lopsided vote marked the latest sign of how the Trump administration has roiled world affairs, challenging international efforts to combat climate change, stem human rights abuses and ease the nuclear standoff with North Korea.
Diplomat after diplomat took the General Assembly podium to say that the status of Jerusalem had to be resolved in final peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, not by fiat from Washington. No other nation, even the few that opposed the resolution, said it would follow the U.S. lead and move its embassy to Jerusalem.
The resolution says any decisions regarding the political status of Jerusalem “have no legal effect, are null and void,” and should be rescinded. The text does not specifically mention the United States but expresses “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem.”
On Wednesday, Trump had warned that he might cut U.S. aid to countries that voted for the resolution.
“They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us,” he said. “Well, we are watching those votes.… Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”
It’s not clear if Trump intends to carry out his threat. Veteran diplomats said doing so could alienate allies and reduce Washington’s ability to influence events at the U.N., which tends to support U.S. priorities. The final vote suggests many nations — including such crucial Arab allies as Egypt, Iraq and Jordan — dismissed Trump’s talk as bluster, or were willing to risk his ire.
Trump’s Dec. 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem and to order the State Department to ultimately move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv upended decades of U.S. policy and international consensus that the divided city’s status should be negotiated. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.
Major U.S. allies such as Britain, Germany, France and Japan, as well as America’s key allies in the Muslim world, voted in favor of the resolution, saying they were reaffirming previous Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem dating back to 1967 that are still in force.
Canada and Mexico, both of which are entrenched in negotiations with Washington to reset terms of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, abstained. Australia, one of America’s closest allies, also abstained.
The 35 abstentions, plus 21 countries that did not turn up for the vote, were more than many diplomats had expected, suggesting that Trump’s hardball tactics had partly worked. The U.S. Mission to the U.N. issued a statement that sought to downplay the broader setback for Trump’s policy.
“While the resolution passed, the vote breakdown tells a different story,” the statement said. “It’s clear that many countries prioritized their relationship with the United States over an unproductive attempt to isolate us for a decision that was our sovereign right to make.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Trump and praised the countries that abstained or didn’t show up to vote.
“I do appreciate the fact that a growing number of countries refused to participate in this theater of the absurd,” Netanyahu said on his Facebook account.
“Israel completely rejects this preposterous resolution,” Netanyahu said. “Jerusalem is our capital. Always was, always will be.”
In a press release, Knesset member Nachman Shai called it “a black day” for the international community.
“Although this decision was adopted by a large majority, it does not change the status quo,” he said. “Jerusalem is our capital and will remain open to all religions."
In a speech before the vote, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., stressed that Trump’s decision on Jerusalem did not prejudge the city’s final status in a peace deal or preclude a possible two-state solution.
But she reiterated Trump’s tough stance, saying the United States “will remember this day.”
"We will remember it when we are called upon once again to make the world's largest contribution to the United Nations,” she said. “And we will remember when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit."
America “will put our embassy in Jerusalem,” she added. “No vote in the United Nations will make any difference on that.”
The outcome was not a surprise. A similar resolution passed the U.N. Security Council 14 to 1 earlier this week but was vetoed by the United States. No country has a veto in the 193-member General Assembly.
In a series of tweets, Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, thanked those who voted for the resolution. “Despite the threats and scare tactics, the world stood with justice,” he wrote.
Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, the party coalition that represents most Israeli Arabs, said the vote showed that “the international community does not accept Trump and Netanyahu’s morally bankrupt diplomatic policy.”
Some countries that abstained, including Australia, said they disagreed with Trump’s decision and condemned unilateral actions on any side. But they said another U.N. resolution would not resolve the dispute.
Canada explained its abstention by saying it considered the resolution one-sided because it did not fully acknowledge the ties to Jerusalem felt by the three major monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Mexico said it was “alarmed at the distortions” taking place in the peace process and called on the United States to be a mediator in the dispute, and not to take one party’s side over the other.
In addition to Israel and the United States, the nations that voted against the resolution were Guatemala and Honduras in Central America, the West African nation of Togo, and the tiny Pacific island states of Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru and Palau.