Video: Could UN Jerusalem vote be watershed moment?

On Thursday I went on Al Jazeera English to talk about the overwhelming vote in the UN General Assembly earlier in the day to condemn the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

I told Al Jazeera that the vote was a “massive defeat for President Donald Trump’s Israel First policy.”

Despite open threats and bullying by Trump and his ambassador Nikki Haley, 128 countries backed the resolution. Just nine opposed it and 35 abstained.

The vote reaffirmed long-standing resolutions by the Security Council declaring that Israel’s measures to alter the status of Jerusalem are “null and void and must be rescinded.”

This could be a real watershed moment, because many countries openly defied the blatant threats. But this will depend on going beyond statements and resolutions to imposing a cost on Israel –through sanctions – for its violations of international law.

Watch the video above.

Who backed Israel?

Of the seven countries that opted for international isolation along with Israel and Washington, three – Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau – are effectively colonial dependencies of the United States.

A fourth is Nauru. Long exploited to depletion by colonial powers for its natural resources, the tiny South Pacific island state with a population of 10,000 survives in part by auctioning its diplomatic positions to the highest bidder.

It also serves Australia as an offshore prison for refugees and asylum-seekers.

Togo in West Africa is a close ally and arms customer of Israel.

The US and Israel also won backing from Guatemala and Honduras.

Israel has a long history of supporting Guatamala’s right-wing governments, military and death squads as Tel Aviv played the role of Washington’s proxy in its Central American dirty wars of the 1980s.

Last year, Guatamala’s president Jimmy Morales, who represents a party founded by retired military officers, visited Israel to cement these enduring ties.

And after Honduras cast its vote for Israel on Thursday, the US quickly delivered its reward. On Friday, the State Department recognized the result of the country’s presidential election despite evidence that it was rigged to favor the right-wing incumbent.

International observers found significant irregularities throwing the result of the 26 November election in doubt.

The left-wing opposition candidate – the Palestinian-descended Salvador Nasralla – had been significantly ahead when authorities suddenly stopped providing public updates of the vote count. When they resumed it a day later, Nasralla’s lead steadily reversed in favor of incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez.

While awaiting Washington’s blessing for the suspect election result, Hernandez has engaged in a violent crackdown on protesters using US-trained forces.

Honduras is also another major arms customer of Israel.

Bullying backfires

As for the US bullying and blackmail, that appears to have backfired.

The Southern African state of Botswana denounced the “threatening and grossly inappropriate” behavior of US Ambassador Haley and urged all countries to support the resolution “despite the consequences.”

Even Canada, long a hardline supporter of Israel, was embarrassed enough to slightly moderate its anti-Palestinian position.

Citing “Western diplomats,” Barak Ravid, the correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10, reported that Justin Trudeau’s government had been planning to vote with the United States and Israel, “but changed [its] vote to abstention after hearing Trump’s threats in order not to be perceived as US puppet.”

Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council, a US advocacy group that supports international diplomacy and negotiations with Iran, calculated that the vote was even more lopsided when measured by population:

Parsi estimated that the countries that voted with the US and Israel represent just 0.5 percent of global population, while the countries that backed the resolution represent more than 90 percent.

Blow to “international far-right”

“This vote is further proof that the far-right Israeli-Trump alliance is more isolated than ever as the overwhelming majority of nations are finally recognizing its fatal attempt to undermine both Palestinian rights and the very rule of international law,” Omar Barghouti said on behalf of the Palestinian BDS National Committee – the steering group for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. “Holding Israel accountable for its egregious, decades-old human rights violations is crucial to upholding both.”

Barghouti also urged “meaningful sanctions, especially a military embargo and intensified boycott and divestment measures against Israel’s regime of oppression.”

“BDS today is not only crucial for realizing Palestinian freedom, justice and equality,” Barghouti asserted. “It is also critical to stopping Trump, Netanyahu and other leaders of the international far-right who are threatening world peace and global justice like never before.”

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The story is actually about the abstains. Those are the shocking ones for the Palestinian cause. And of course one country, usually reliable Pro Palestine Kenya, that didn't even bother to show up. It isn't actually about the vote at all. That was expected.

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Another great interview, I think there may be a home for you with one of the majors Ali. And thank you for clarifying the character of our supporters in the UN but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to do that if you were with a network. And on your absolutely critical central point about this being a “watershed moment”; I hope the sane member states really consider the ramifications of NOT seizing this moment. And they need look no further than our own country, the US, for a wakeup call.
A decade and a half ago there were very significant, if not massive, protests here against a war that hadn’t started yet. But a completely lawless US administration went ahead, against an overwhelming global consensus and invaded Iraq. Fast forward to today and a million casualties later, we’re still “liberating” Iraq at a cost of 10,000 civilians/ city, to say nothing of the fact that we’re still running Afghanistan with no light at the end of the tunnel and are responsible for truly massive devastation throughout the region, in Syria and more recently the numbing humanitarian calamity in Yemen; that, with our support for the Saudi dictatorship. Who, in my opinion is waging a proxy warm war against Iran, for our regional hegemony and Israeli security.
I hope they see what I see; little protest against what is fast becoming a rogue superpower, whose leader has declared he will do anything, anything at all for what he and he alone sees as best for America and America alone. I hope they really understand the price they will eventually pay if they don’t RESIST NOW!
It’s we who need THEIR help now.

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UN votes (Security Council and then unbinding General Assembly)
have been dissected as though there were meaning hidden
somewhere.

The pro-Israel policy by the United States has been carried
on as an excuse for murder and massacre by Israel. These
two votes were treated to this Administration's bully-ish
tactics. But their core with the illusion of a phantom peace
with an Israel armed to the teeth by the US and I toothless
(and dying) Palestinian "state" has been supported by
decades of US and Western powers. Officials have used
these illusions to make their deadly deeds look virtuous.
Murder, massacre, rape, dispossession under another
name.

The Zionist "project" deserves applause for its ability
to market its terrorism worldwide.

The difference between this and Secretary of State
John Kerry's policies is one of style, not substance.

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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There may well be very little substantive difference between the Trump and previous administrations over Israel and Palestine. But Israel has maintained a belligerent occupation for 70 odd years and it is 25 odd years since Oslo. It was possibly reasonable enough to cut Israel some slack in the early years of its occupation and much easier to both genuinely believe and market Israel as wanting a just resolution with the Palestinians. But now, after so many years, the continuing dispossession of the Palestinians of land/resources etc it is impossible to hold out that Israel is now, or ever has acted in good faith. Thus the marketing of Israel becomes harder and harder. Combine this with an administration which appears to trying to rival Israel itself in its diplomatic ineptitude, and the mask or veil of the two state solution negotiated between the parties which has been held onto tightly by western states to avoid taking a stance is just pixelating away. It takes some diplomatic and marketing skill to maintain the illusion of a 2 state solution and/or Israeli good faith. Trump and his administration appear not to value these skills and certainly don't possess them.

This all doesn't change the substance of American support for Israel, both Democratic and Republican, but it does make it harder for the US to hold sway. Even if it doesn't turn out to the watershed moment we all want, it is at the very least, another chink, another crack, in the supposedly invincible amour of the Zionist project.

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I have to register my disagreement with your conclusion; "Even if it doesn't turn out to the watershed moment we all want, it is at the very least, another chink, another crack, in the supposedly invincible amour of the Zionist project", particularly in order to clarify my above remarks in that respect.
It will be as you say only if, as Ali says, the moment is seized. If it isn't, if the rule of law is allowed to further degrade, if there aren't nation states and I mean major ones, that will stand in the breech, then rather than chinks and cracks appearing in the façade covering injustice, they will be in the edifice of our social order and the façade will become irrelevant.
As I intended to say, we already see it happening here most critically but all over on a national level. The degradation of our international system of law and order is something that is already underway and its total collapse is now quite imaginable and frightening in the extreme.
I hate being so dramatic but I agree with Ali's conclusion that if this moment isn't seized "there will be no hope" and not only for Palestine.
Obviously no nation will stand up unless its citizens compel it to. So the hope is slim indeed.

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If you mean that there is a risk that the overwhelming vote in both the SC and GA against the Jerusalem Statement is all that happens and is then followed by a quiet acceptance that Jerusalem is no longer a final status issue on the grounds that 'everyone knows' that Jerusalem will be part of Israel, then I can't really disagree with you. This is the MO of Israel; the creation of facts on the ground (settlements) has taken place, even if the pace has sometimes tactically slowed. Then lo and behold one day, it is just a matter of recognizing reality because 'everyone knows' that the settlement blocks will be part of Israel. We all know how Israel games the system. We have seen how Israel ignores criticism in the expectation that under American patronage, one day the international community will accept it and not try and unscramble the egg. Its worked for them so far and maybe it still will.

Nor do I expect that any other party will step into the breach and wrest control of the peace process from the USA. But, it will now be much harder for EU/western states to parrot on that a 2SS is the only resolution with pledges to work tirelessly for this result. The margin for error for the Israel/American camp is now much tighter and the Trump administration is held in contempt across the globe; and not just because of his right-wing agenda but his ineptitude and crassness. I just think that the US is losing leverage re its control of the I/P conflict. But essentially I agree that other States will act only to the extent that Israeli intransigence becomes a domestic issue.

Finally, international law is in its infancy and we basically are struggling (I think) with the limits of Nation State sovereignty. Its not crashing simply because its always been weak and largely unenforceable. What is happening is that we all have to get used to a world where the US no longer dominates quite so much - just as the US & Israel vie for the Fawlty Towers in Diplomacy Award.

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I do think this is a watershed moment and that if it is wasted, there will be hell to pay. I suppose we’re not quite seeing eye to eye though because I’m not at all convinced that anything but the solution enshrined in international law, is anything more than an exercise in political theory, mostly for western intellectuals, more left than thou Israelis and diasporic Arab idealists. In fact I’m a little puzzled that Ali concluded that this is a moment for Palestinians. I would have thought he'd agree more with you that it’s really a moment for the 2SS. At least that’s where I follow your line of reasoning. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
I was carried away on the wings of Ali’s beautiful treatise on democracy in a “One-State Solution” and I could barely keep my eyes open through Ibish’s incredibly repetitive, verbose, badly written, leaden counterpoint, in “What’s Wrong With It” but I can’t help being brought back to Earth by it. So perhaps as much as this provocative move is a referendum and a commentary on what we'll risk to nurture or neglect that infant of ours, it is a referendum on the 2SS and a litmus test for a 1SS.

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An excellent comment. It's not inspiring but reeks of reality and lacks
illusions.

A picky item: Looking at the history of the Zionist "project" I don't
think the US ever had an "leverage in the I/P conflict."

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.