The gulf between Washington and the rest of the world widened Tuesday as a majority of UN countries expressed their distress and anger about violence along the Israeli-Gaza border, while US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley offered a staunch defense of Israel and blamed Hamas.
The chasm was most marked as eight members of the European Union lined up at the United Nations to call on Israel to restrain from using excessive force, on Hamas to ensure protests in Gaza remain non-violent and for a political resolution to tensions that left 61 people, including 8 children, dead after protests Monday against the US embassy move to Jerusalem.
“While recognizing the right to protect its borders, we expect Israel to respect the fundamental right to peaceful protests and the principle of proportionality in the use of force when defending its legitimate security interest,” the EU members of the Council said in a statement.
The Europeans prepared the independent statement, they said, because of the Security Council’s inability to express itself jointly — an indirect reference to divisions with the US.
Indeed, Haley, struck an entirely different note at an emergency United Nations meeting of the Security Council. She questioned why the Council wasn’t discussing Iranian violence, whether there was any link between the violence and the embassy opening, and said the issue wasn’t worthy of a UN meeting at all.
“Those who suggest that the Gaza violence has anything to do with the location of the American embassy are sorely mistaken,” Haley told the Council Tuesday. “Rather, the violence comes from those who reject the existence of the state of Israel in any location. Such a motivation — the destruction of a United Nations member state — is so illegitimate as to not be worth our time in the Security Council, other than the time it takes to denounce it.”
Haley also used her address to the Council as an opportunity to congratulate Israel for marking the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence.
“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate our friends in Israel on the remarkable achievement of 70 years of independence,” she said.
She did not mention any Palestinian deaths or injuries in her remarks.
In Gaza, the Palestinian militant group Hamas tied the US embassy move directly to the violence.
“The American administration bears all the consequences of the implementation of this unjust decision,” political bureau member Khalil Al-Hayya told reporters late on Monday.
Al-Hayya also warned Israel that “retaliation is imminent.”
“The shedding of our people’s blood today stains the faces of those normalizing [relations] with the Israeli Occupation and bargaining on the Palestinian cause with shame,” Al-Hayya said.
UK Prime Minister Teresa May, speaking in London, called Israel’s use of live fire “deeply troubling” and asked for an independent investigation into the deadly clashes. She was joined by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has condemned the US embassy move. A day earlier, France officially expressed its disapproval of the move.
President Donald Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel and relocate the Embassy from Tel Aviv is contentious for Palestinians, who hope to claim part of the city as their future capital.
The city is also home to deeply holy sites for Jews and Christians. The issue has been so thorny that international negotiators had left the question of Jerusalem to the final stages of any peace deal.
The timing of the embassy opening, attended by Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, added to the fraught symbolism. It took place a day after Israel celebrated Jerusalem Day, marking what Israelis consider the reunification of the city.
Tuesday marked the anniversary of what Palestinians call the “Nakba” or Catastrophe, in memory of the more than 700,000 Palestinians who were either driven from, or fled, their homes during the Arab-Israeli war that accompanied the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
On Tuesday, Haley said that, “moving the US embassy to Jerusalem was the right thing to do,” and it “reflects the will of the American people,” though a poll released in December showed that 63% of Americans opposed the move, including 44% of Republicans.
Haley said the embassy move “reflects the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel” and that “recognizing this reality makes real peace more achievable, not less.”
Haley’s defense of Israel came a day after the US blocked a proposed draft of a UN Security Council press statement on the violence and ongoing protests in the Gaza Strip, according to two diplomats with direct knowledge of the matter. Any permanent Security Council member can block or veto resolutions or other actions in the Council.
Rules of engagement
Kuwait, which presented that press statement, now says it wants to bring a resolution designed to protect the Palestinians. Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi said he will circulate the draft resolution to Council members Wednesday, but he offered no details on its contents.
There will be a request within the draft-resolution for the Secretary-General to use “whatever is available to him to examine the rules of engagement” and afford protections for the Palestinian people, Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations told reporters.
Human Rights Watch said the US decision to block the proposed draft undermined Washington’s credibility.
The move sent “the message that Israeli security forces’ calculated killings of protesters will come with no cost,” said said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at HRW.
“The Security Council’s silence and inaction will only encourage future Israeli abuses in Gaza and further undermine US credibility by highlighting US double standards as it seeks to mobilize the Council to hold abusers to account in crises like Syria and Myanmar,” Charbonneau said.
But Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon cautioned UN members not to “give into the cycle of death that the Palestinians have created.”
Defending Israel’s response, Danon said rioters had thrown Molotov cocktails, planted explosive devices and rolled burning tires. “They have sent flaming materials over the fence and into Israel, spreading deadly fires across our fields. And they have tried, on multiple occasions, to break down the fence and infiltrate Israeli territory,” Danon said.
The casualties were entirely the fault of Hamas, he said.
Hamas “has committed war crimes not only against Israeli civilians but also against its own people — turning them into human shields for their own cynical gain,” Danon said. “Every casualty that has resulted from the recent violence is a victim of Hamas’ war crimes.”
And like Haley, he pointed to Iran. “I can say to you today that Iran is supporting the riots in Gaza,” he said.
The Israeli defense didn’t defuse international calls for an investigation into the violence. Alistair Burt, the British Minister of State for the Middle East at the Foreign Office, said the UK is working “urgently” with the United Nations towards an inquiry.
“The United Kingdom has been clear in calling for, urgently, a need to establish the facts of what happened, including why such a volume of live fire was used,” Burt told members of Parliament. “We are supportive of an independent, transparent investigation.”
And in contrast to Haley, other countries and national leaders urged both sides to make changes.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her “concerns about the escalation of violence” in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.
According to Seibert, Merkel told Netanyahu she understands “the security concerns of Israel,” and added, “the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly should not be abused to provoke unrest.”
Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop said her government expressed “deep regret and sadness over the loss of life and injury during the continuing protests.” She called on “Israel to be proportionate in its response and refrain from excessive use of force” and on Palestinians “to refrain from violence and attempting to enter into Israeli territory.”