BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
President Trump added two new major mistakes last month to the long list of misguided foreign and domestic policy decisions throughout the year.
On December 18, 2017, the United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that called for the reversal of President Trump’s announcement to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy to that city. All the other 14 members of the Security Council, including Britain and France, voted for the resolution which correctly asserted that “Jerusalem is a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations.” It further called for all states to refrain from moving their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem.
The status of Jerusalem is a highly controversial and emotional issue for Jews, Muslims and Christians. Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and annexed it in violation of international law. Israel considers Jerusalem its “undivided and eternal capital.” Palestinians, on the other hand, consider East Jerusalem to be the capital of an eventual Palestinian state. Immediately after the UN vote, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas announced his refusal to meet with Vice President Mike Pence during his upcoming visit to the Middle East. The trip was postponed to a later date. Thousands of protesters demonstrated in many Islamic countries against President Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. The Palestinian leadership announced that they will no longer consider the United States as an honest broker of peace between the conflicting sides.
During the Security Council session, UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladinov warned that President Trump’s unilateral action lessens the chances of peace, “undermining moderates and empowering radicals.”
President Trump justified his decision by basing it on a 1995 law passed by Congress to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. However, all U.S. Presidents since then have signed a national security waiver postponing the move every six months. They did not wish to undermine the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations and inflame the passions of the Arab and Islamic world.
The fact that Trump had made a promise during his campaign to transfer the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem cannot excuse his recent decision. As I wrote a year ago, Trump had made an unwise promise and keeping it could become dangerous.
To make matters worse for the U.S., the UN General Assembly, where the United States does not have veto power, overwhelmingly adopted a resolution on December 21, 2017, declaring President Trump’s decision recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as “null and void.” It is highly embarrassing for a Superpower like the United States to have 128 countries vote against it, only 8 other countries supported it, 35 abstained, and 21 were absent. Thus President Trump has made the United States the laughing stock of the world, particularly since the U.S. and Israel were supported by tiny countries that most people have never heard of, such as Togo, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, and Palau.
In contrast, many of the major countries voted against the U.S. in the UN General Assembly: France, Britain, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and dozens of others.
As if this embarrassment was not sufficient, President Trump and his UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, proudly declared that the United States would cut off aid to any country that voted against the U.S. This is a ridiculous statement, as the United States is not going to eliminate aid from many of these 128 states. Furthermore, when a world power like the United States provides foreign aid, it does so to pursue its own interests. By cutting off aid, the United States would jeopardize its own national interests. Giving foreign aid does not mean that the United States automatically buys a country’s sovereign right on how to cast its vote at the UN and try to intimidate it into submission.
Regarding the Jerusalem issue, there was much discussion in the Armenian press about the appropriateness of Armenia voting against the U.S. at the UN on December 21. The fear was that Armenia would not receive foreign aid from the U.S. and would antagonize Israel.
In my opinion, both of these points are not valid. I am confident that Armenia’s many supporters in the U.S. Congress would restore the aid against the wishes of the White House, in the unlikely possibility that President Trump would carry out his threat.
With regard to relations with Israel, Armenia does not have much of a risk as Israel has not been friendly with Armenia. It has no Embassy in Yerevan, has refused to recognize the Armenian Genocide, and has sold billions of dollars of lethal weapons to Azerbaijan to kill Armenians! Even Azerbaijan, despite its love-fest with Israel, voted against the U.S. decision. Needless to say, Turkey also voted against it.
Furthermore, abstaining from voting at the UN or being absent would have isolated Armenia from the rest of the world, from Armenian communities in Arab and Islamic countries, and contradict the wishes of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem which has condemned the US decision.
Finally, Israeli leaders should not celebrate President Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, as it is not in Israel’s interest to antagonize the rest of the world and isolate itself. Israel needs to win over other countries, especially Palestinians, to arrive at a peaceful resolution through negotiations, not bullying or violence!