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Was it a truly Palestinian ‘win’ at the UN General Assembly?

Israel succeeded in convincing many countries to abstain or stay away from last week's vote

    Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon
    Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon Photo: Getty Images

    Last week’s resolution at the UN General Assembly, at which member states overwhelmingly rejected Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, was conceived in anger and will be largely ineffective. But it was hardly unexpected.

    Planned by the Palestinians and introduced by Turkey and Yemen, it was supported by many European countries, including US allies such as the UK. But the breakdown still had some surprises. The vote had 128 countries in favour and only nine against (Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo and the US). There were 35 abstentions, while 21 countries did not attend at all.

    Before the vote, Israel’s delegation had distributed replicas of an ancient coin inscribed with the Hebrew words “Freedom of Zion”. The country’s representative, Danny Danon, held up the original coin dating from 67 CE, the year of the revolt against Rome, as evidence of Jewish longevity in Jerusalem. “No UN vote,” he said, “will ever drive us from Jerusalem.”

    Speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, Yemeni representative Khaled Hussein Alyemany described the US action as a “blatant violation of the rights of the Palestinian people, as well as those of all Christians and Muslims”. He called it a threat to world peace and the two-state solution.

    “This vote is important to show that the Palestinian cause is still our cause,” said Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Turkish foreign minister, who spoke shortly after Mr Alyemany.

    “Therefore, today, we will speak up for justice and peace. Today, we will speak up for Al-Quds — Jerusalem, the city of three divine faiths.”

    Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki portrayed Israel as a cruel aggressor, accusing it of attempts to erase the Palestinian, Arab, Islamic and Christian identity of Jerusalem”.

    Speaking to journalists immediately after the vote, Mr Malki told us that they had undertaken this fight and, punctuating his words with his fist, declared: “We won!”

    Israel, by contrast, made no such remarks. Its attitude is best described as determined, if not defiant. 

    I remember seeing several embassies — principally Latin American — in the capital in the early 1960s; all were later persuaded to move to Tel Aviv.

    But after Mr Trump’s recognition, the Czech Republic announced that it recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while Guatemala said it would also move its embassy back to the city from Tel Aviv.

    It is true that the Palestinians have “won” this round with a resolution of no effect. But what have they really won for their own people?

    The writer is a UN-based journalist