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UN snub on Jerusalem: Trump’s threat of cutting aid mere bombast

IANS | Chicago |

The Trump administration’s less-than-subtle threat to stop aid to countries that voted against the United States for recognising Jerusalem as Israels capital is manifestly untenable. For one, the list of 128 countries includes those at the very heart of Washington’s deep strategic and national security engagement.

Stung by the overwhelming support for a United Nations resolution in favour of maintaining the status of Jerusalem in compliance with Security Council resolutions, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said Washington would be “taking names” of those who went against it. Before the vote Haley had said: “The President will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those who voted against us.”

President Donald Trump went a step further, clearly suggesting that aid to those who did not support his decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem would end. “Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot,” he said. The only problem with this rather extraordinary warning is that among the countries that supported the UN resolution against America are those with a direct bearing on both this country’s strategic and national security interests.

Take, for instance, just four countries that voted against America — Afghanistan ($4.2 billion), Iraq ($4.2 billion), Jordan ($1.2 billion) and Egypt ($1.2 billion). They are at the core of America’s geostrategic engagement and between them accounted for over $10 billion in annual US aid out of a total obligation of $49 billion and actual disbursement of $45 billion worldwide for 2016. There is next to no prospect of even reducing, let alone ending, the aid to these four. Add to the list another equally crucial player, Pakistan, which received over $987 million in 2016 and which voted against the US.

Digging deeper into the complexities of US aid and its direct relationship with its various global interests, it becomes even clearer why President Trump’s warning is ill-conceived on the face of it. His just-released National Security Strategy document lays special emphasis on the enhanced role India ought to play both within South Asia and in the broader Indian Ocean region. It also expects India to increase its economic assistance to Afghanistan. India, in a somewhat spunky decision, voted against the US over the Jerusalem resolution.

It is hard to see how Washington might be able to balance punishing India for that vote even while expecting it to share a considerable amount of its foreign policy burden in Asia. India received a relatively modest sum in US aid in 2016 — $123 million — and it is unlikely to be moved by the prospect of losing it. More importantly, it would be rather impractical, not to mention downright awkward, for Washington’s interlocutors to both threaten and cajole New Delhi simultaneously.

The situation becomes even trickier for Washington when it comes to Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which voted against the US and both of which embody the very definition of its strategic and national security interests. How does America reduce or even cut off aid to these two countries abruptly now or in the foreseeable future? It might be useful to remember that only in August Trump signalled an open-ended involvement, without an identifiable end-game, in Afghanistan. Such an endeavour can hardly be expected to come without economic aid attached to it.

The pronouncement by Trump is an example of his characteristic bombast in so much as it concerns such key strategic allies and interests. When it comes to the actual decision-making, it is more than likely that Washington would have to forget the grand threat and fall back to its more conventional diplomatic route.

Notwithstanding all this, there is no realistic expectation within the international community that the Trump administration would give up the plan to move its embassy to Jerusalem merely because a vast majority of the world — 128 countries — oppose it. As Haley said before the vote: “The United States will not be told by any country where we can put our embassy.”

In vetoing the UN Security Council resolution on December 18, she had tweeted: “What we witnessed here today in the Security Council is an insult. It won’t be forgotten. It’s one more example of the UN doing more harm than good in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

For now, the contrast between a majority of the world and the US-Israel combine could not be sharper.