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  December 22, 2017

UN Defies Trump Threats on Jerusalem Vote

Despite a threat from US Ambassador Nikki Haley to pull United Nations funding, the UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a measure rejecting President Trump's decision on Jerusalem
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Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. She is the author of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer, Before and After: US Foreign Policy and the September 11 Crisis, Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer and Understanding the US-Iran Crisis: A Primer. Her most recent book is Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer.


AARON MATÉ: It's The Real News, I'm Aaron Maté. By a strong majority, the UN General Assembly has voted to reject President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the US Embassy there. The measure passed today declares Trump's move null and void. It passed with a vote of 128 in favor, 9 against and 35 abstaining. The overwhelming approval came despite a threat, from US Ambassador Nikki Haley, to pull funding from the UN.

NIKKI HALEY: The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon to, once again, make the world's largest contribution to the United Nations and we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit. America will put our Embassy in Jerusalem. That is what the American people want us to do and it is the right thing to do.

AARON MATÉ: I'm joined now by Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies. Phyllis, you've been watching the UN for a long time. How does this statement today from Haley rank to you in the history of developments that have happened at the UN over the many years that you've been following it?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, it's actually sort of interesting Aaron, the words, almost the very words that Nikki Haley used really resonate with earlier, similar threats to United Nations countries that might have the temerity to vote against the United States back in both Bush administrations. And in fact, in 2003, under George W. Bush, the day before the US went to war in Iraq, the United States sent messages to almost all the countries in the General Assembly with very similar language, very threatening language, saying that the United States would regard a General Assembly resolution on Iraq as unhelpful and as directed against the United States. Please know that this question, as well as your position on it, is important to the US.

So, Haley's note yesterday had said, "As you consider your vote, I want you to know that the President and the US take this vote personally." Very similar language. So, this isn't exactly new but it is a new level of this kind of threat. What was so interesting was seeing the number of countries prepared to call the bluff on the Trump administration and simply say, "We're not buying it."

We do have, I would say, one big difference here, Aaron. We had a statement from Trump himself, beyond what Nikki Haley said. At a cabinet meeting yesterday, when in discussing his absolute willingness to cut aid to even the poorest countries, Trump said explicitly, "We don't care." We don't care about what happens to people in these incredibly impoverished countries. Often impoverished because of US wars, US trade policies, US caused climate change. So, to simply say with such absolute disdain, "We don't care." That was a big part of what was being rejected today at the General Assembly.

AARON MATÉ: Phyllis, the vote today was in part called by the Non-Aligned Movement, which historically has been a vehicle for displays of Third World solidarity. And I'm wondering, given the Palestinians are a Third World liberation movement occupied by Israel for so many years, how much the issue of Third World solidarity, you think, might have factored into today's vote?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: I think that was certainly a component of it, as was antagonism to the Trump administration in general. I think that it's certainly true that the Palestinians have not gotten serious, and consistent, and strong support from the Non-Aligned or anybody else. They have been left on their own. Most countries have not been prepared to risk the wrath of the United States in order to defend Palestinian rights. So, this is an exception and it's an important one. That Palestine became the symbol of what it was going to take to bring the whole world together against the ravages of the Trump administration.

AARON MATÉ: I want to go to a clip of the Israeli Ambassador to the UN. His speech today, before the vote, he called those who support the resolution puppets of the Palestinians.

DANNY DANON: Those who support today's resolution are like puppets. You are puppets pulled by the strings of your Palestinian puppet masters. You are like marionettes forced to dance while the Palestinian leadership looks on with glee. You are blind to the lies. Unaware of the manipulation surrounding you, just like a puppet. This vote is nothing more than a performance of delu-

AARON MATÉ: "A performance of delusion," says Danny Danon, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN.


AARON MATÉ: Phyllis, what are your thoughts upon hearing him call the UN General Assembly, those who support the measure rejecting the Jerusalem move, “as puppets of the Palestinians?” One of the weakest members of the entire UN.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Palestine, of course, is a state recognized by the United Nations but not as a member state, it's an observer state. And the notion that the Palestinian Authority, which commands little authority even among the occupied population that it, supposedly, is in charge of, the notion that it is a puppet master of anyone else is, obviously, ludicrous. The Israeli Ambassador also said something else that was rather interesting. He said that, “No UN resolution can change history.” And I was very curious if he had in mind Resolution 181, the resolution that divided historic Palestine into what was supposed to be an Arab state and a Jewish state if he would say that that resolution did not change history in creating his own country.

AARON MATÉ: Right, exactly. He also said that Palestinians have repeatedly rejected Israel's overtures of peace. He talked about the fact that Israel has withdrawn from Gaza and he claimed that there is still no occupation there. All of which is false. We all know Israel still controls Gaza, still bombs Gaza at will, still controls what comes in and out, still cuts off its power, and has not offered Palestinians a peace deal that recognizes even their most basic to have self-determination. Your thoughts on just this show by both Israel and the US at the UN and their isolation from the rest of the world when it comes to the issue of a fair resolution of the Israel-Palestine issue?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, what this indicated, particularly from the Israeli speech, is that there is nothing on their agenda for reaching any kind of a settlement. The status quo is perfectly fine for Israel. That's the message here. The rhetoric we sometimes hear in the United States and from other member states from the Europeans, from others at the UN, the status quo is not sustainable. Well, if you’re Israel the status quo is quite sustainable. The cost is very, very low and the benefits are very, very high. The benefits financially from the occupation, the fact that Israel is either the 23rd or the 27th wealthiest country in the world. Its passports are good virtually around the world. It is one of the most strong military forces. What's not to like? Israel is doing just fine. It's thriving. People living under military occupation are the ones who are paying the price.

For Palestinians, the status quo is not sustainable but it never has been. That's not the concern of Israel and I think that what the speech of Danny Danon indicated is that they have no interest in changing that status quo. Put the blame on the Palestinians as long as the United States backs us, it doesn't matter how isolated we are in the rest of the world. Europe has not made good on its small efforts to begin the process of identifying ways of cutting back on the trade privileges that Israel gains from the European Union. So, Israel is doing fine.

The rhetorical rejection of Israeli occupation is quite strong at the UN and growing stronger. That's important but it doesn't change the situation on the ground any more than, as you say, the Israeli claim that because it withdrew its soldiers and settlers from the territory of Gaza, that somehow that makes the occupation over. When international law defines occupation not by the number of soldiers you have on the ground but by the question of control. Israel controls Gaza. It controls the airspace, the waters, the access to electricity, the access to water, the access to food. Who goes in, who comes out. All of that is under Israeli control. That is occupation.

So, I think that as long as people are listening to the Israeli position, it's quite clear the status quo is quite fine and we intend to keep it. The question is, what role the United Nations, what role the international community and ultimately, if we do our work right, what role the United States someday in the future, might play in changing that situation?

AARON MATÉ: Phyllis Bennis, Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, thank you.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Thanks very much.

AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.


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