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General Assembly rules against US, declaring recognition of Israel capital 'null and void'

In a humiliating blow for Donald Trump on the world stage, the United Nations General Assembly has voted by 128 to nine to declare his controversial decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “null and void”.

Just days after the US used its veto power at the UN Security Council to block a similar measure, the General Assembly resoundingly condemned the America’s unilateral action, which most observers said would hamper efforts to secure peace in the Middle East.

While the vote has little practical impact – it is not legally binding – it is a considerable embarrassment for the US as it reflects global opinion.

As the US licked its wounds, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah seized on what he said was a “victory for Palestine”.

“We will continue our efforts in the United Nations and at all international forums to put an end to this occupation, and to establish our Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Mr Rdainah said.

Thirty-five countries, many in Africa and Latin America, abstained from the vote.

Experts had predicted at least 150 votes in support of the motion. There was speculation that the high number of abstentions was a result of the Trump administration’s threat to “take names” of countries and cut off humanitarian aid funding.

Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, Malawi, and several Caribbean and Pacific island nations all abstained. Canada, Poland, Australia, and Mexico also joined them in sitting out the vote, in perhaps a nod to other political pressures from the US.

Ahead of the vote, the US’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, had warned that the US would would be “taking names” of any countries who supported a resolution criticising Washington’s actions.

The Associated Press said  Haley had written to most of the 193 UN members states warning of possible retaliation. She said the President was taking the matter personally.

Speaking to members of his cabinet on Wednesday,Trump said he liked what  Haley had spelled out. “For all these nations, they take our money and then vote against us. They take hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions of dollars and then they vote against us,” Trump said.

“We’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

In 2016, the US contributed approximately US$13bn  in economic and military assistance to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and $1.6bn to states in East Asia and Oceania, according to the US Agency for International Development.

Ukraine was among the 21 nations that were not present for the vote.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he completely rejected the “preposterous” UN resolution.

He said in a video on Facebook that Jerusalem “always was, always will be” Israel’s capital. He also said he appreciated that “a growing number of countries” had refused to participate in the “theatre of the absurd”.

Netanyahu also thanked  Trump for his “stalwart defence of Israel”. Also joining the US and Israel were Togo, Guatemala, Nauru, Palau, Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Honduras. 

Despite the disapproval of so many countries, Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Independent  the vote is still a “win for Trump in a perverse way”.

“It fits with his tough guy, anti-globalist image. If he had backed down in the face of UN pressure he would have looked hollow to his domestic supporters,”  Gowan said.

However, it is not a “win” for Haley in his estimation. ”She looks diplomatically isolated and a little inept, and has undone” the work she has put in to build relationships with diplomats,  Gowan noted.

The White House has not publicly commented on the vote as yet, but  Haley took to Twitter to “appreciate these countries for not falling to the irresponsible ways of the UN”, and included a list of all those that voted “no” and abstained

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