Top US aid recipients ignored White House threat on UN vote

2017-12-22 18:26
Palestinians protest against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on December 8. (Mahmoud Illean, AP)

Palestinians protest against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on December 8. (Mahmoud Illean, AP)

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Jerusalem - Ahead of a dramatic vote at the United Nations on Thursday, the United States made an unprecedented threat to fellow members of the international community: Those who vote against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital risk diplomatic retaliation and losing American financial aid.

But when the dust settled, the biggest recipients of American aid – most of them Muslim or Arab countries – rejected the threat, leaving the White House facing a tricky dilemma as it plots a course forward for the Middle East. Key Arab allies, led by Saudi Arabia, all banded together against the U.S.

Yet for Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there were some bright spots in the lopsided vote. Some influential countries, mostly African and Latin American countries courted by Israel in recent years, stepped back from past support for the Palestinians by abstaining or skipping the vote altogether. Still, two of Netanyahu's biggest targets, China and India, came down solidly in favor of the Palestinians.

These mixed trends could allow each side to claim a victory of sorts.

Here is a closer look at how key countries and regions voted in Thursday's General Assembly resolution:

Aid recipients

With the exception of Israel, the top recipients of international aid are Muslim, Arab or African countries. Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan all voted to back the resolution proposed by the Palestinians, as did African countries Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Africa. In addition to Israel, the only member of the top 10 aid recipients not to support the Palestinians was Kenya, a close Israeli ally that skipped the vote, according to Foreignassistance.gov.

Arab allies

The Arab world voted across the board with the Palestinians, an expected move given the importance of Jerusalem and the Palestinian cause to the Arab public. Nonetheless, the vote could embarrass the White House, which has sought to cultivate ties with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other moderate Sunni countries to counter rising Iranian influence. It also could complicate attempts by the US to rally support for an expected region-wide peace plan it says is in the works.

Claiming victory

The Palestinians praised the lopsided majority in their favour, saying it shows "once again that the just Palestinian cause enjoys the support of (the) international community". Yet the Palestinians have long enjoyed widespread support in the United Nations, which is dominated by developing countries sympathetic to their cause.

In a possible cause for concern, the level of support was slightly less than a 2012 landmark vote in the General Assembly to recognize Palestine as a non-member state. In that vote, 138 nations supported the Palestinians, compared to 125 on Thursday.

Israeli outreach

Netanyahu has made significant outreach efforts in recent years to countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America in a bid to soften support for the Palestinians at the UN. Those efforts showed some signs of success. After the vote, Netanyahu said he appreciated the growing number of countries that "refused to participate in this theater of the absurd".

Mexico and Argentina, countries that Netanyahu visited earlier this year, both shifted from past support for the Palestinians to abstentions on Thursday. Two Latin American countries, Guatemala and Honduras, even voted against Thursday's measure.

While Kenya skipped the General Assembly vote, Uganda and South Sudan – African countries courted by Netanyahu – also dropped their past support for the Palestinians and abstained.

But a possible concern for Israel could be the apparent support by two countries with poor human rights record – Myanmar, which skipped the vote, and the Philippines, which abstained. Both countries voted with the Palestinians in 2012.

The Indian and Chinese votes also exposed the limits of Netanyahu's outreach.

Whiter Europe?

As the US prepares a new Mideast peace push, Thursday's vote at the General Assembly exposed deep divisions with Europe. The three most important countries in Europe – Britain, France and Germany – all voted against the US on Thursday. That could signal trouble if the US seeks European support for its peace plan down the road.

Other European countries with close ties to Israel, including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic – all with nationalist governments – abstained in the vote.

These divisions within Europe could complicate attempts by the European Union to formulate a joint position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict moving forward.

Read more on:    us  |  palestine  |  israel

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