The United Nations general assembly backed on Thursday a resolution condemning the United States decision to shift its embassy to Jerusalem and recognise the divided city as the Israel’s capital.
Support for adoption was overwhelming with 128 voting for the resolution, nine against and 35 abstaining.
Despite open threats from the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley that Washington would retaliate for any condemnation by cutting its funding, the assembly gave strong backing to the resolution at an emergency meeting demanded by Palestine.
"This vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN," Mrs Haley told the meeting. She defended president Donald Trump’s announcement as a reflection of "the will of the American people, and our right, as a nation, to choose the location of our embassy.
“At the UN we're always asked to do more and give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American people about where to locate our embassy, we don't expect those we've helped to target us,” she added.
Riyad Al Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, launched the debate by recalling the wave of adverse reaction from countries, regional bodies, the Secretary General of the UN as well as leading Islamic and Christian figures. "Doesn’t the US ask why it stands alone in this position and why its closest allies have not been able to ignore its decision?” he asked. “The answer is clear. Jerusalem is the key to war and peace in the Middle East and the world at large.
"We meet today not because of any hostility towards the United States, but because of its decision, which is an attack against the right of the original Palestinian people in the city of Jerusalem, the Arab nation and all Muslims and Christians of the world.”
He added that it was the US itself that would suffer the consequences of the shift. "This decision serves the forces of extremism and the Israeli government in the implementation of its colonial agenda, and it is unimaginable that there is any credibility for a peace plan that excludes Jerusalem.”
King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas met in Riyadh on Wednesday as preparations for the New York vote were under way. King Salman reiterated his country’s position on Jerusalem’s status and the Palestinians’ right for an independent state with east Jerusalem as their capital, reported the Saudi Press Agency.
That was not the view in Washington where Mr Trump himself fired criticism at the UN and the general assembly ahead of the vote. "They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us," he said. "Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care."
Afghanistan and Mali withdrew their sponsorship of the resolution. It was co-sponsored by Yemen, chair of the Arab Group at the UN, and Turkey, chair of the summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
The resolution mirrored a motion that was vetoed by the US on Monday at the security council. It reaffirmed that any decision on the status of Jerusalem has no legal effect and must be rescinded.
It does not mention Mr Trump's decision but expresses "deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem".
Diplomats expected strong support for the resolution in defiance of the US pressure. Washington asked countries to either abstain, vote against it or simply not turn up for the vote.
Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador, used a Roman coin as a prop in his speech before going on to lash out at the “hypocritical bond” between the Palestinians and the United Nations. He did not recognise international law as granting binding protections for the occupied territories.
A member of the Fatah central committee, Jamal Muheisen, said that the US president's threats to cut off aid to countries if they voted for the resolution on Jerusalem were “a cheap way to extort support from countries” and would not affect member states that were fed up with Mr Trump’s bullying policies.
While resolutions by the General Assembly are non-binding, a strong vote in support carries immense political weight and have been pivotal since east Jerusalem was annexed by Israel after the 1967 war. The annexation has never been recognised by the international community.
A series of UN resolutions have called on Israel to withdraw from the territory seized during the 1967 war, including that adopted on Thursday.