US President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that vote in favor of a draft United Nations resolution on Thursday against his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“I like the message that Nikki [US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley] sent yesterday at the United Nations for all of these nations that take our money, and then they vote against us at the Security Council, or they vote against us potentially at the assembly,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday ahead of the rare emergency special session being convened by the UN General Assembly on Thursday. “They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”
“This isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you, and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they’re doing. So, Nikki, that was the right message that you and I agreed to be sent yesterday,” he said. “And I’ve had a lot of good comment on it, believe me. People are tired of the United States – the people that live here, our great citizens that love this country – they’re tired of this country being taken advantage of, and we’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.”
The session, being held at the request of Arab and Muslim countries, will hold a vote on a resolution slamming America’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
Israel is hoping a “moral majority” emerges in the UN to either vote against or abstain on the measure.
Officials in Jerusalem acknowledge that despite Washington’s warning, including the letter Haley sent out Tuesday, the measure is expected to pass easily because of the Palestinian automatic majority in the 193-member body.
Nevertheless, Israel’s delegations abroad have been directed to actively lobby host governments against the measure and to encourage them not to speak on the issue at the emergency meeting called at the behest of Yemen and Turkey.
Success, from Israel’s point of view, would be if a significant number of Western, democratic states do not support the measure, diplomatic officials said.
Turkey, which has led vocal opposition to the American move and according to diplomatic officials is using the issue to try and catapult itself to a leadership position in the Muslim world, will send its foreign minister to the UN to participate in the vote, along with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Maliki.
The General Assembly is expected to vote on a text calling for the US to withdraw its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and it comes just three days after the US cast a veto against a similar measure in the Security Council.
The vote in the General Assembly is not binding and has declarative value only.
Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy to the peace process, discussed the expected UN vote with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in face-to-face talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday. No statement was issued after their meeting.
In a brief speech after the Security Council vote on Monday, Haley said the voting was an “insult” that “won’t be forgotten.”
She followed that up on Tuesday by sending letters to numerous other missions at the UN, saying that Trump is taking “this vote personally.”
“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 a Twitter post late Tuesday evening, Haley wrote: “At the UN we’re always asked to do more & give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American ppl abt where to locate OUR embassy, we don’t expect those we’ve helped to target us. On Thurs there’ll be a vote criticizing our choice. The US will be taking names.”
In line with comments she made at the Security Council vote on Monday that no one should presume to tell the US where to place its embassy, Haley pointed out in her letter that the US Congress declared 22 years ago that Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s capital.
The US ambassador noted that Trump’s move does not affect final-status negotiations, including the boundaries of Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem, and that the president has “clearly voiced support for a two-state solution if that’s what the parties agree to.”
Haley further said the US was not asking other countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem, “though we think it would be appropriate,” but is asking them to “respect our decision about our own embassy.”
Though unnamed ambassadors to the UN were quoted in various outlets on Wednesday as saying this would not affect their vote, former Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor said he was not so sure.
“I think at the end of the day it will have an impact,” he said.
“Some countries might abstain, others might not be there – Christmas might start a couple days early for them.
“The US is basically saying to a part of the world, whom the US is supporting both financially and politically, that they will not tolerate the fact that on the one hand they ask for their help in an array of things – from economic to policy issues – and on the other hand are voting against the US at the General Assembly,” he said. “They are saying: The rules of the game are going to be changed, and we will remember.”
Prosor said he did not remember a time when the US publicly declared that it was watching a UN vote so carefully, thereby hinting at retaliation if countries voted against its will, though he said this has been done under the radar screen.
One example of the US using its leverage at the UN happened last year, though in the other direction, over Security Council Resolution 2334 that blasted the settlements.
According to a number of reports, then-vice president Joe Biden called Ukraine to make sure it supported the resolution and threatened repercussions if it did not, and then-secretary of state John Kerry was said to have phoned New Zealand and asked it to resubmit the resolution after the Egyptians pulled their draft proposal. The US abstained on that Security Council vote, allowing it to pass.
On Wednesday, Foreign Minister director-general Yuval Rotem tweeted that while the UN can do many things, “it cannot change history” and the “obvious fact” that Jerusalem has and always will be the capital of the Jewish people.
“Any UN resolution that denies that will reward rejectionism and push peace further away,” he wrote.
Michael Wilner and Reuters contributed to this report.