U.S. Envoy Nikki Haley Says UN Did More Damage Than Good for Mideast Peace

At special Security Council session, UN envoy for Mideast peace says: No plan B for two-state solution ■ Britain urges U.S. to submit detailed proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace ■ Israeli envoy: No peace without Jerusalem as Israel's capital

U.S. envoy to the UN Nikki Haley speaks with Israeli counterpart Danny Dannon before a UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East, New York, U.S., December 8, 2017.
BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

The UN Security Council held a special meeting on Friday on America’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

The session was held at the request of eight member states: Britain, France, Egypt, Italy, Sweden, Uruguay, Bolivia and Senegal. 

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U.S. envoy Nikki Haley said at the meeting that U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration remain committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if that is what both sides agree on. The Jerusalem decision does not change this, she said.

She said that Israel has the right to decide the location of its capital, and that it is "simple common sense" that foreign embassies should be located in Jerusalem.

She attacked the UN, saying it "has done much more to damage the prospects for Middle East peace than to advance them."

She further said the U.S. will no longer stand by when Israel is attacked at the UN.

"Israel will never be, and should never be, bullied into an agreement by the United Nations, or by any collection of countries that have proven their disregard for Israel’s security," she said. 

UN chief António Guterres did not attend the session. The UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, delivered remarks via video conference.

Mladenov said that "of all the final status issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as identified in the Oslo Accords — refugees, settlements, security, borders, etc — the status of Jerusalem is perhaps the most emotionally charged and difficult issue."

Mladenov expressed concern about violent escalation in the region, noting clashes in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem that unfolded after Trump's announcement. He urged political, religious and community leaders to refrain from rhetoric that might encourage further escalation.  "It will be ordinary Israelis and Palestinians who will have to live with the violence," he said.

He said it is up to Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with the international community's support, to reach an agreement that would end the occupation.

"There is no plan B for the two state-solution," he said, with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the Palestinians. 

After Mladenov, the Swedish envoy expressed his country's opposition to Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the plan to transfer the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

The U.S. action "contradicts international law and Security Council resolutions," he said, adding that Jerusalem's status is to be decided in direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. 

Referring to Jerusalem by its Arabic name, the Egyptian envoy said at the session that the "international community must deal with Al-Quds within international law and past UN and Security Council resolutions, which do not recognize the 1967 occupation of the city."

The U.K.'s representative said Britain "strongly encourages" the U.S. to submit detailed proposals for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. 

The French envoy said Paris regrets Trump's statement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and announcing preparations to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. France believes Jerusalem should become the capital of two states, Israel and Palestine, as part of a negotiated agreement, he said. There's no alternative to the two-state solution, and there can't be two states without an agreement on Jerusalem, he added.  

Russia's representative said that Trump's declaration "was received with great concern in Moscow" and that, within the framework of a future agreement, East Jerusalem "should be the capital of Palestine, while West Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel." The Russian envoy added that there is no alternative to the two-state solution. 

Palestinian Ambassador Mansour then spoke, urging the council to denounce what he called the "irresponsible" U.S. decision and reaffirm its position on the status of Jerusalem — that the holy city's status is unresolved and must be decided during Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations on a two-state solution.

Israeli envoy Danny Danon stressed in his speech that Israel maintains the freedom of worship for all faiths in Jerusalem. He lauded Trump for having "the courage and sound moral judgement" to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"The Palestinians have a decision to make," he said. "They can choose violence as they always have ... or they can choose to join us at the negotiating table in Ramallah, Jerusalem or anywhere around the world."

He added: "They can learn that there can never be peace without Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

"We call on all the nations of the world to join us in Jerusalem," Danon said, urging states to move their embassies to the city. 

Efforts to thwart Security Council statement

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Trump three times before the president’s announcement on Jerusalem. In those conversations, he stressed the decision’s historic importance and promised explicitly that the status quo in the city would be maintained.

The Israeli and American UN delegations made joint efforts to thwart any significant statement or decision by the Security Council. 

Last December, the UN Security Council passed a resolution stating that it “will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations.” The resolution, which infuriated Jerusalem, passed by a vote of 14-0, with America, then under President Barack Obama, abstaining. The Israeli delegation expects opponents of Trump’s decision to raise that resolution on Friday, along with Resolution 478 from 1980, which said the council wouldn’t recognize Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem and urged all countries not to station their embassies in Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, in response to Trump’s announcement, Guterres said: “From day one as secretary-general of the United Nations, I have consistently spoken out against any unilateral measures that would jeopardize the prospect of peace for Israelis and Palestinians ... In this moment of great anxiety, I want to make it clear: There is no alternative to the two-state solution. There is no Plan B ... I will do everything in my power to support the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to return to meaningful negotiations and to realize this vision of a lasting peace for both people.”

Netanyahu, speaking at a Foreign Ministry conference Thursday morning, said Israel is in contact with other countries about recognizing Jerusalem, “and I have no doubt that the moment the American Embassy moves to Jerusalem, and even before, many more embassies will move to Jerusalem.”

But so far, only Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, has expressed interest in moving his country’s embassy. The Czech president voiced support for Trump’s announcement, but the Czech Foreign Ministry stressed that it recognizes only western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Foreign Ministry is now trying to persuade countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa to follow in Trump’s footsteps.

In his remarks at the Foreign Ministry, Netanyahu said Wednesday was a “monumental” day. “We were all moved to hear President Trump’s historic statement, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and this statement is – of course – based on ancient right.”

Reuters reported on Thursday that America asked Israel to restrain its response to Trump’s announcement, since according to an official State Department document, Washington anticipates a harsh reaction to the move that may include threats to its offices and representatives overseas. Israel accepted this request, and Netanyahu therefore ordered cabinet ministers not to speak about the issue.

One senior minister said that even after Trump’s speech, ministers were asked “not to turn up the volume too much” in their reactions.