The United States won’t be “lectured” about its support for Israel and Mideast peace, a defiant U.S. envoy said Friday, as some of Washington’s closest allies and Arab partners condemned President Trump’s change in policy on Jerusalem.
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley frowned, arms across her chest, as criticism of the United States mounted during a tense emergency session of the U.N. Security Council. Ambassadors from Britain, France, Italy, Japan, China and more warned that Trump’s announcement that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is misguided or a threat to peace. Some called it reckless. Other envoys blasted the U.S. shift as a violation of past U.N. Security Council resolutions or possibly of international law.
Haley insisted that the U.S. administration remains committed to seeking a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians and tried to turn the tables on the United Nations.
“The U.N. has done much more to damage the prospects for Mideast peace than to advance them” by serving as a platform for anti-Israel bias, she said. “We will not be a party to that, and the United States will not be lectured to by countries that lack any credibility when it comes to treating both Israel and the Palestinians fairly.”
Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N.’s Middle East envoy, speaking from Jerusalem, urged all sides to show restraint. Two Palestinians were reported killed in clashes Friday in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem.
"There is a serious risk today that we may see a chain of unilateral actions, which can only push us further away from achieving our shared goal of peace," Mladenov told the council meeting.
Trump administration officials say they expected a backlash and criticism from the announcement, but the effect on Trump’s planned peace effort as well as other international partnerships is not yet clear. Many of the same nations criticizing the United States on Friday are also party to U.N. sanctions against North Korea and other initiatives in which the United States seeks help.
In Paris, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stressed that Trump's announcement Wednesday does not prejudge the status of Jerusalem.
"He was, I think, very clear that the final status of Jerusalem is a matter that would be left — including the borders — would be left to the parties to negotiate and decide," Tillerson said of Trump.
The Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza had urged its followers to ignite a third intifada, or uprising, against Israel. Palestinian factions in the West Bank called for three days of “rage,” and the Palestinian Authority ordered a general strike, shuttering all its public institutions.
Israel was the only nation to support Washington at the session, which took no action in response to Trump’s declaration Wednesday that he will immediately consider Jerusalem to be the Israeli capital and begin work to relocate the U.S. Embassy there.
Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel in 1967, as the capital of a future state. The sector is home to religious sites holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, and Haley said the U.S. shift changes nothing about the administration of those sites or the eventual status of East Jerusalem.
Egyptian U.N. Ambassador Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta dismissed suggestions that the U.S. stance does not tip the balance toward Israel.
“This is a dangerous precedent that needs reflection,” he said.
"It is not permissible legally to alter the status quo in the city," he added later, and predicted that the move would have "a grave negative impact on the peace process."
That criticism was important because Egypt was the first Arab state to make peace with Israel and has been a pillar of decades of U.S.-sponsored peace efforts. Trump and his envoys have been seeking Egyptian backing for a new peace initiative that Washington has been expected to present early next year.
Jordan, the only other Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, also criticized Trump's announcement, saying it has "no validity under international law."
"All it does is perpetuate the Israeli occupation of the eastern part of the city," Ambassador Sima Sami Bahous told the council.
Before the session began, Haley and Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour, the ambassador of the Palestinian observer mission to the United Nations, spoke alone for several minutes, in full view of cameras but out of earshot. Haley gestured emphatically, as if trying to persuade the veteran diplomat of something. He stood stiffly, arms at his sides, for much of the conversation.
Whatever Mansour told Haley at the end appeared to leave her disappointed. She wore an expression of sorrow, or exasperation, as she looked at Mansour for a long moment before they parted.
Mansour and Israeli U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon were invited to attend the session even though they are not regular members of the Security Council. Palestinians have sought some benefits of statehood through the United Nations, against U.S. wishes. Mansour’s nameplate reads “State of Palestinian territories.”
The U.S. decision should be "reconsidered and rescinded," Mansour said in English. In remarks in Arabic, translated by the United Nations, he called it illegal, irresponsible and provocative.
Switching back to English, Mansour suggested that Trump's decision shows that Washington is in league with Israeli occupation of land that his people claim.
"Complicity must be recognized," Mansour said. The U.S. decision "undermines and thus qualifies its leadership role to seek peace."