The United Nations General Assembly voted 128-9 with 35 abstentions on Thursday in favour of a non-binding resolution declaring President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital "null and void," a smaller margin than the Palestinians hoped for but a rebuke to the US government which threatened to cut funding for those who voted "yes."
In total 35 nations, including Argentina, abstained from the vote. The diplomatic stance indicates a slight shift in Argentina’s publicly stated position, in 2010 the government recognised the State of Palestine "within the borders defined in 1967," which includes the territories of West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
In general, the UN vote was a victory for the Palestinians though many of their supporters were predicting at least 150 "yes" votes or more.
The Trump administration launched a massive lobbying campaign bordering on blackmail, which included letters sent from US Ambassador Nikki Haley to over 180 countries warning that the US would be taking names of those who voted against Trump's decision.
But when it came to the vote, major US aid recipients including Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq ignored Trump's threat and supported the resolution.
The nine countries voting "no" were the US, Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands and Togo. Among the other notable abstentions were Australia Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic and Mexico.
Somewhat strangely, 21 of the 193 UN member states were absent for the vote including Kenya, Georgia and Ukraine which have close US ties.
Trump's threat to cut off US aid raised the stakes in Thursday's vote and sparked criticism at his tactics, which at least one Muslim group called bullying or blackmail.
At the start of the emergency General Assembly meeting ahead of the vote, representatives of Arab, Islamic and non-aligned nations rejected his threat and urged a "yes" vote against the US unilateral decision on Jerusalem.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, who flew to New York for the meeting, called the US action "an aggression on the status of Jerusalem" and said "those who want peace must vote for peace today."
‘We don’t care’
Trump told reporters on Wednesday that US citizens are tired of being taken advantage of by countries that take hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars, and then vote against the United States. He said he will be watching Thursday's vote: "Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care."
Haley echoed his words in her speech to the packed assembly chamber, threatening not only the 193 UN member states with funding cuts, but the United Nations itself if the world body approves the resolution declaring Trump's recognition of Jerusalem "null and void."
"The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very right of exercising our right as a sovereign nation," she said.
The vote will make no difference on US plans to move its Embassy to Jerusalem, Haley said, but it "will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN, and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN, and this vote will be remembered."
Yemen's UN representative Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, whose country chairs the Arab Group at the United Nations, introduced the resolution and urged all "peace-loving countries" to vote in favour of it.
He called Trump's action "a blatant violation of the rights of the Palestinian people and the Arab nations, and all Muslims and Christians of the world," and "a dangerous violation and breach of international law."
It threatens peace in the world, undermines any chance for peace in the Middle East, "and only serves to fan the fires of violence and extremism," Alyemany warned.
Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, tweeted after Trump's comments: "Our government should not use its leadership at the UN to bully/blackmail other nations that stand for religious liberty and justice in Jerusalem. Justice is a core value of Christianity, Judaism and Islam."
The Palestinians and their Arab and Islamic supporters sought the General Assembly vote after the United States on Monday vetoed a resolution supported by the 14 other UN Security Council members that would have required Trump to rescind his declaration on Jerusalem as Israel's capital and not move the US Embassy there.
Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour told The Associated Press before comments by Trump and Haley that he expected "massive support" for the resolution in the General Assembly.
Before flying to New York, al-Maliki and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the US of intimidation and said they believe U.N. members will ignore US pressure.
"No honourable state would bow to such pressure," Cavusoglu said. "The world has changed. The belief that 'I am strong therefore I am right' has changed. The world today is revolting against injustices."
Ambassador Rhonda King of the tiny Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines sent Haley a letter saying that her country treasures the United States "as an enduring ally" but will vote against Trump's action.
"Sometimes, friends differ; on Jerusalem, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines respectfully differs from the USA; and so, too, do many of the staunchest friends and allies of the USA," King wrote.
Israel also conducted a global lobbying campaign against the resolution, government officials said Wednesday.
Netanyahu acknowledged Thursday the vote would likely pass by a wide margin but said Israel "completely rejects this vote before it is made."
The resolution approved Thursday was co-sponsored by Turkey, chair of the summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and Yemen, chair of the Arab Group at the UN. It is very similar to the defeated Security Council resolution.
The resolution says Jerusalem "is a final status issue" and reaffirms 10 Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem, dating back to 1967, including requirements that the city's final status must be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
It "affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the holy city of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded."
The resolution "demands that all states comply with Security Council resolutions regarding the holy city of Jerusalem, and not to recognise any actions or measures contrary to those resolutions."