UN votes on Jerusalem after Trump warns 'we're watching'

Trump has threatened to cut funding to countries that back the measure. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

AFP United Nations Headquarters, New York, NY, United States Dec 21, 2017, 04.16 PM (IST)

UN member-states were poised Thursday to vote on a motion rejecting US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, after President Donald Trump threatened to cut funding to countries that back the measure. 

Gathered in an emergency session, the General Assembly is to decide on a draft resolution reaffirming that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved through negotiations, and that any decision reached outside of that framework has no legal effect and must be rescinded.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki, addressing the assembly as the session got underway, appealed for support and referenced America's warning that it was "taking names" among countries that oppose it at the UN.

"This organization is now undergoing an unprecedented test," al-Malki said.

"History records names, it remembers names -- the names of those who stand by what is right and the names of those who speak falsehood. Today we are seekers of rights and peace."

Trump's decision on December 6 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital broke with international consensus and unleashed protests across the Muslim world, prompting a flurry of appeals to the United Nations. 

The status of the Holy City is one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both sides claiming it as their capital.

A draft resolution rejecting the US move was sent to the General Assembly after it was vetoed by the United States at the Security Council on Monday, although all other 14 council members voted in favor.

Trump warned that Washington would closely watch how nations voted on Thursday, suggesting there could be financial reprisals for countries that back the motion put forward by Yemen and Turkey on behalf of Arab and Muslim countries.

"They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us," Trump said at the White House.

"Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care."

'House of lies'
The draft resolution mirrors the text that was vetoed on Monday, and although it does not mention Trump's decision, it expresses "deep regret at recent decisions" concerning the city's status. 

Ahead of the vote, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the UN as a "house of lies," saying Israel "rejects outright this vote, even before it passes."

"The attitude to Israel of many nations in the world, in all the continents, is changing outside of the UN walls, and will eventually filter into the UN as well -- the house of lies," he said.

Diplomats expect strong support for the resolution, which is non-binding, despite the US pressure to either abstain, vote against it or simply not turn up for the vote. 

America's neighbors Canada and Mexico were both expected to abstain, according to diplomats.

On Tuesday, US Ambassador Nikki Haley sent an email to fellow UN envoys to put them on notice that "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," she wrote in the message seen by AFP.

And on Twitter she said "the US will be taking names" when ambassadors of the 193-nation assembly cast their votes. 

"Nikki, that was the right message," Trump said.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said UN member states should not be swayed by Trump's threat.

"I am calling on the whole world: never sell your democratic will in return for petty dollars," he said in a televised speech in Ankara, predicting that "the world will teach a very good lesson to America today."

Voting with their conscience
No country has veto powers in the General Assembly, unlike in the 15-member Security Council where the United States, along with Britain, China, France and Russia, can block any resolution.

Among the 14 countries voting in favor on Monday were Britain, France, Italy, Japan and Ukraine who were expected to do the same at the assembly.

While resolutions by the General Assembly are non-binding, a strong vote in support of the resolution would carry political weight.

Israel seized the largely-Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, claiming both sides of the city as its "eternal and undivided capital."

But the Palestinians want the eastern sector as capital of their future state and fiercely oppose any Israeli attempt to extend sovereignty there.

Several UN resolutions call on Israel to withdraw from territory seized in 1967 and the draft resolution contains the same language as past motions adopted by the assembly.