In a rare step by two of America’s closest allies, Britain and France called for an emergency meeting of the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council to air their concerns over the decision by Donald Trump of the United States to endorse Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The emergency meeting on Dec. 8, also requested by Bolivia, Egypt, Italy, Senegal, Sweden and Uruguay (and initiated by Sweden), turned out to be a many-nation plea for calm in light of what the Palestinian ambassador to the UN called an “irresponsible and unilateral” act by Trump.
The timing of the meeting was eerie, as it was almost a year ago when the Council approved a resolution condemning Israel for its continued illegal settlements, a resounding criticism that distanced the United States, which abstained from the vote, from its historical ally, Israel. The resolution was simultaneously denounced by the incoming Trump administration.
Virtually all the countries in the Council on Dec. 8 reiterated their support of the two-state solution with Jerusalem as the capital of both states, coupled with diplomatic statements of dismay. Even Russia, which could have seized the moment to lash out at Trump, said that his decision was met in Moscow “with serious concern.”
Yet Japan’s ambassador, Koro Bessho, used unusually frank language for his country, noting that the US step left Japan “deeply worried about heightening tension on the ground.”
France’s remarks reflected the positions of many Council members, especially Europeans. “Without an agreement on Jerusalem, there won’t be any peace agreement,” said François Delattre, the French ambassador to the UN. “There is simply no plan B to the two-state solution.”
Nikki Haley, the American envoy, relied on her warning approach to any topic she encounters in the Council, telling members that the Jerusalem change won’t affect peace talks.
“To those who have good faith concerns about the future of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, let me again assure you that the President and this administration remain committed to the peace process,” she said. “To those who do not act in good faith — to any person, leader, country, or terrorist group that uses this week’s decision as a pretext for violence — you are only showing yourselves to be unfit partners of peace.”
Bolivia, in its remarks, suggested that the Council must go beyond dialogue on the “Israeli occupation” of Palestine, otherwise the Council itself “will be occupied territory,” Sacha Llorenty Solid, the ambassador, said.
Funnily enough, the US joins Russia on the Council as the only other member to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a decision by Russia in April 2017, saying its recognition extended only to West Jerusalem. Russia still abides by the UN-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, “which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state,” according to the Security Council Report, an independent publication.
Ukraine, an elected member of the Council, stayed out of the group of European countries requesting the emergency meeting, but said that it backed the two-state solution. Ukraine has used its Council seat in the last year — its term ends Dec. 31 — to court the Trump administration for support in ousting Russia from eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Trump, in turn, has dangled the possibility of making defensive weapons available to Ukraine; while Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, turned up the volume this week in pushing talks of a UN peacekeeping mission being installed in the Donbas region of Ukraine, the contested area.
In Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, news of the Jerusalem announcement did not elicit much notice at a workshop, for example, for Ukrainian media on how to report on women, peace and security resolutions authorized by the UN Security Council. (This reporter was a participant in the event.)
As one editor, Lina Kushch of Golos Ukrainy, which reports on the Parliament, said, the announcement about Trump’s declaration was not top news in Ukraine, although media commentators, she added, noted the unpredictability of the US president.
“But most readers have little knowledge about the history of the [Palestine-Israeli] conflict and do not know how it will affect the positions of Ukraine,” Kushch said. “There is the armed conflict in the East of Ukraine for 3.5 years, and all the attention of the audience is focusing on these events.”
After the Council meeting ended, the ambassadors from France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Britain read yet another statement (see top video), signaling more anger from Europe toward Washington.
“We disagree with the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to begin preparation to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” the long statement began.
“We encourage the US Administration to now bring forward detailed proposals for an Israel-Palestinian settlement,” it finished.
Laura Kirkpatrick contributed reporting to this article.
This article was updated on Dec. 10, 2017.
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.