By Rodney Reynolds
The politics of the Trump administration are being increasingly governed by the twin policies of unilateralism and isolationism.
After Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, he withdrew from a historic 2016 climate change agreement signed by 195 countries – and the only signatory to do so.
And this year, he announced plans to dilute the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal signed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), namely the U.S., UK, France, China and Russia, plus Germany and the 28-member European Union (EU) – much against warnings by all the other signatories.
The latest unilateral act came in early December 2017 when Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and threaten to eventually move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city – the only country, so far, to do so.
And on December 18, the U.S. vetoed a one-page Security Council resolution, crafted by the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and sponsored by Egypt, which reiterated the longstanding view of the UNSC: that no country should establish an embassy in Jerusalem and that its status has to be resolved by the Palestinians and Israelis.
In a statement before she exercised the U.S. veto, Ambassador Nikki Haley told delegates: “I have been the proud Representative of the United States at the United Nations for nearly a year now. This is the first time I have exercised the American right to veto a resolution in the Security Council. The exercise of the veto is not something the United States does often. We have not done it in more than six years. We do it with no joy, but we do it with no reluctance.”
“The fact that this veto is being done in defense of American sovereignty and in defense of America’s role in the Middle East peace process is not a source of embarrassment for us; it should be an embarrassment to the remainder of the Security Council,2 she added.
Of the 15 members of the UNSC, the remaining four permanent members, UK, France, China and Russia, voted for the resolution. So did the 10 non-permanent members proving once again how isolated the United States is in the far reaches of the international community – and particularly at the United Nations, in this case, characterized by a vote of 14:1.
Responding to the U.S. decision, and reacting to Haley’s statement, Nadia Hijab, Executive Director of Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, told IDN: “If the issue were not so serious, Nikki Haley’s comments would be the subject of slapstick comedy.”
“Why does America’s sovereignty need defending all the way out in the Middle East, and how does Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in violation of international law, defend that sovereignty?,” she asked pointedly.
In fact, what has happened at the Security Council has stalled the first step in Israel’s campaign to legalize its occupation of Palestinian land, she added.
The other four permanent members and the remaining 10 members who represent all world regions have made it clear that they are not ready to shake a core foundation of the international system – the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war – to serve Israel’s colonial appetite, Hijab said.
Earlier, there were concerns that the statement jointly issued on December 8 by five European countries – including two veto-wielding Security Council members – was somewhat mealy-mouthed, she pointed out.
Although they upheld international law, they “disagreed with” rather than condemned Trump’s recognition and softened even that by noting commitment to a two-state solution, Hijab declared.
The UK, one of the strongest Western allies of the U.S., stood firm.
Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN, told delegates: “The status of Jerusalem should be determined through a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and should ultimately be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states.”
Quoting previous UNSC resolutions, he said that in line with those same resolutions, “we regard East Jerusalem as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
“As we have previously said, we disagree with the US decision unilaterally to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel before a final status agreement and to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. As recent events in the region have shown, these decisions are unhelpful to the prospects for peace in the region, an aim that all of us in this Council remain committed to.”
“The British Embassy to Israel is based in Tel Aviv and we have no plans to move it,” Rycroft declared.
Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, told delegates “it was reprehensible that the United States had chosen to disregard international law and undermine its own role in any future peace process.”
Affirming that East Jerusalem was the capital of the State of Palestine, as recognized by the majority of States, he urged “all peace-loving nations to stand firm for the rule of law on that issue and to reject Israel’s settlement policies.”
He said Palestinians would never accept occupation as a permanent reality, pointing out “those who want peace do not recognize illegal actions and measures but rather recognize the rights of the Palestinian people as enshrined in international law.”
Asked about the role of the Quartet (comprising the United Nations, U.S., the European Union, and Russia), following the extraordinary OIC summit meeting in Istanbul on December 13 where the Palestinian Authority said it will no longer recognise a U.S. role in the search for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, UN Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters December 13 that the United States remains one of the partners in the Quartet, and the Quartet will remain involved in the search for a solution, a two‑state solution, in the Middle East.
“What our concern is we want to make sure that the parties themselves are willing to hold talks with each other. And, in line with that, the United Nations, both in its independent role and through the Quartet, will work to do what it can to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the table for talks,” he added.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he had consistently spoken out against any “unilateral measures” that would jeopardize the prospect of peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties on the basis of the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, taking into account the legitimate concerns of both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides, he noted.
“I understand the deep attachment that Jerusalem holds in the hearts of so many people. It has been so for centuries and it will always be. In this moment of great anxiety, I want to make it clear: there is no alternative to the two-state solution. There is no Plan B.”
It is only by realizing the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition, with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Palestine, and all final status issues resolved permanently through negotiations, that the legitimate aspirations of both peoples will be achieved, he added.
An Asian diplomat told IDN that Trump’s “dangerous and provocative move” regarding Jerusalem can not only trigger violence in the Middle East but also lead to a conflict.
Ironically, this provocation comes at a time when Guterres is aiming at “preventive diplomacy” following the appointment in September 2017 of a High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation to guide him on the road ahead. (Read > UN Chief Opts for Preventive Diplomacy Over Post-Conflict Peacekeeping.)
The primary mandate of the Board is based on the age-old axiom that prevention (diplomacy) is far better than the cure (post-conflict peacekeeping).
At the same time, the Secretary-General is also determined to help achieve the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. And Goal 16 is aimed are reducing violent conflicts worldwide with better access to peace and justice.
The UN has warned that a few high-intensity armed conflicts have caused, and are causing, large numbers of civilian casualties.
But progress promoting peace and justice, together with effective, accountable and inclusive institutions, remains uneven across and within regions, according to the UN.
The crisis over Jerusalem may well be the next spark for another armed conflict.