During an emergency meeting, UN Security Council members widely condemned Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that has led to deadly clashes across the occupied Palestinian territories.
Eight countries called for the emergency meeting at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday, as Palestinians protested across the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip against the US president’s decision throughout the day.
Several countries resoundingly condemned the unilateral move by the US to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Trump, ignoring warnings from the international community, announced on Wednesday that the US was formally recognising Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and would begin the process of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to the city.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, while Israel says Jerusalem, which is under Israeli occupation, cannot be divided.
The international community has never recognised Israel’s claim to the entire city.
Here is a look at what was said during the emergency session:
UN: Decision ‘undermines’ peace efforts
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said Jerusalem “is perhaps the most emotionally charged and difficult subject” among the final status issues in the conflict.
“The United Nations has repeatedly declared that any unilateral decision that seeks to alter the character and status of Jerusalem or that may alter these long-standing principles could seriously undermine current peace efforts and may have repercussions across the region,” Mladenov said.
He added that he was “particularly concerned about the potential risk of a violent escalation” in response to the US decision.
Mladenov said the world was standing at a “critical moment in the long-running history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.
Palestine: Rewarding ‘Israel’s impunity’
Riyad Mansour, the ambassador and permanent observer of Palestine at the UN, said the Trump administration has violated “Jerusalem’s legal, political and historic status and the Palestinian peoples’ rights and legitimate national aspirations”.
“The extremely regrettable announcement … has heightened tensions and risks the complete destabilisation of this volatile situation,” Mansour said.
He said the US decision “to reward Israel’s impunity” should disqualify it from any leadership role in efforts to reach a solution to the conflict.
The US decision does not change the tenets of international law and previous UN resolutions which state that Israel must end its occupation of East Jerusalem, Mansour said.
“The status of Jerusalem cannot be unilaterally altered or determined by any state and this decision by the US should be reconsidered and rescinded,” he said.
He called on the UNSC to condemn the US decision, adding that “there can be no just and lasting solution to the Palestine question without a just solution to the question of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has long been the heart of Palestine and always will be.”
Israel: ‘A milestone for peace’
Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, took a decidedly different tone, saying Trump’s decision “marks a milestone for Israel, for peace and for the world”.
“The United States has the courage and true understanding of justice to officially state what has always been known: that Jerusalem has and always will be the capital of Israel,” said Danon.
“The embassy of the United States belongs in Israel’s capital.”
Israel took control of West Jerusalem after the state was created in 1948. It occupied East Jerusalem after the 1967 war and annexed the eastern portion of the city in 1980 in a move that remains unrecognised by the international community.
Israel has built several Jewish-only settlements around and inside key parts of East Jerusalem in an effort to cement its control over the entire city. The settlements are illegal under international law.
Despite this, Danon called on all states to “recognise Israel’s connection to Jerusalem” and to move their embassies to the city.
“We are grateful to the United States for its courageous decision. We call on all the nations of the world to join us this year in Jerusalem, the capital of the state of Israel,” he said.
US: UN ‘biased’ against Israel
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, roundly rejected the criticism from other countries at the meeting.
She said it was “simple common sense that foreign embassies be located” in Jerusalem, which is home to Israel’s parliament, several government ministries, and its president and prime minister.
She said with its decision, the US has not taken a position on boundaries or borders; it has not advocated for any change in the administration around holy sites in Jerusalem, and it has not predetermined final status issues.
“We remain committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement. We support a two-state solution if agreed to by the parties,” she said.
Haley accused the UN “over many years the United Nations has outrageously been one of the world’s foremost centres of hostility towards Israel”.
“The UN has done much more damage to the prospects of Middle East peace than to advance them.”
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from the UN headquarters, said Haley delivered “a very strong criticism of the United Nations, which she claims has historically been biased against Israel”.
“Clearly, the ambassador is feeling that the best form of defence, is attack,” Hanna said.
However, Hanna said many of the speakers made it clear “that the US has directly flouted what has been decades of UN position that the final status of Jerusalem must be decided by the parties at the end of a negotiated process” between Israelis and Palestinians.
Jordan: Religious freedom must be upheld
Jordan, which acts as the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, said it “rejected” the US decision as a violation of international law.
“The kingdom believes that any unilateral decisions to build a new situation on the ground are null and void,” said Sima Bahous, the country’s representative at the UN.
Bahous said the decision may exacerbate tension, provoke strong emotions and lead to confrontations between people of different religions in the city. She said it could “even jeopardise the final status outcome” in the conflict.
The status of Jerusalem is a final status issue, Bahous reaffirmed, and East Jerusalem must be recognised as the capital of a Palestinian state.
“There will be no security or stability without a settlement bringing justice to the Palestinian people,” she said.
“The protection of Jerusalem and its holy places for all religions” must be a priority, Bahous added.
Egypt: No impact on Jerusalem’s legal status
Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta, Egypt’s UN ambassador, said Egypt “denounces” the US decision on Jerusalem, which he said could “ignite [anger among] Muslim and Arab peoples”.
“Such unilateral decisions are a violation of international legitimacy and thus it has no impact on the legal status of the city of Jerusalem since it is a city under occupation,” Aboulatta said.
“It is not permissible legally to take any action that would alter the status quo in the city.”