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Protests at the UN
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 14 - 12 - 2017

The UN Security Council held a special meeting on 8 December to discuss the unilateral recognition by US President Donald Trump of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the request of eight member states – the United Kingdom, France, Egypt, Italy, Sweden, Uruguay, Bolivia and Senegal.
All the Security Council members criticised the US decision, which they said isolated the United States. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley accused the United Nations of being biased against Israel, saying that the US would not “stand by” when Israel was 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.
The anger expressed by the Palestinians at Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the little action taken by the Arab countries in response, has meant for some that the Palestinian-Israeli peace process is now finally dead and the region may be entering a new period of conflict.
Trump may have been counting on silent support from Arab leaders, who he has been encouraging to normalise their relations with Israel in order to build a coalition against Iran. This was mentioned by Haley in her comments last week, but she and the US administration do not seem to have realised the importance of Jerusalem for the world's Muslims who do not see the city's status as negotiable regardless of their leaders' thoughts or intentions.
UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nikolay Mladenov delivered remarks via video conference to the Security Council at its meeting last Friday expressing concerns about possible violent escalation in the region after Trump's announcement.
“I am particularly concerned about the potential risk of a violent escalation,” he said, urging political, religious and community leaders to refrain from rhetoric that might encourage such escalation. “It will be ordinary Israelis and Palestinians who will have to live with the violence,” if it occurs, he said.
He said it was up to Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with the international community's support, to reach an agreement that would end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. “There is no plan B for the two state-solution,” he said, with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and of an independent Palestinian state.
For many commentators, it is difficult to believe that any new peace initiatives at this stage can break the ice and grant the Israeli and Palestinian people peace. It seems likely that various radical groups will now take advantage of Trump's announcement.
According to Iranian media reports, commander of the Al-Quds Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Qasem Soleimani spoke by telephone with military commanders of Palestinian resistance groups including the commanders of the Al-Qassam Brigades on Monday saying that Iran was ready to support the Palestinian resistance groups.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also spoke on Monday with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, vowing to back the group in fighting Israel after the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Trump is closer to Israel than previous US presidents, and he has no previous political or diplomatic experiences. Many at the UN have described his decision as unwise and having been made under the influence of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is Jewish and has been lobbying the peace talks.
“Whatever Trump's motivation was, it has granted an opportunity to the radical groups to cause trouble in the region,” one Arab diplomat at the UN said.
However, the present time could favour Trump as in the post-Arab Spring period many Arab states have been drawn into civil war or have found themselves fighting terrorism, and no key leader wishes to challenge Trump.
Egypt is no longer the Egypt of former president Hosni Mubarak, and it faces various internal challenges. Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is now gone from the scene, and President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria is engaged in a brutal civil war and has lost his credibility with the international community.
Israel has even been attacking Syria, and there have been no complaints at the United Nations and no country has stood by Syria's side. The other Arab countries are more concerned by the growing influence of Iran, and they have not perhaps had the chance to take the measure of Trump's pro-Israel policies.
The US action “contradicts international law and UN Security Council Resolutions,” Mladenov said at the Security Council meeting, adding that Jerusalem's status should be decided in direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The Egyptian representative at the meeting said that the “international community must deal with Al-Quds within international law and past UN and Security Council Resolutions, which do not recognise the 1967 occupation of the city,” using the Arabic name for Jerusalem.
Riyadh Mansour the Palestinian Ambassador to the UN, said that over the coming weeks the UN would be asked to draft a resolution to ask the United States to take back its decision.

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