Updated on 26 December 2017
Chapter 6: VOTING
Section 1: Substantive decisions and the veto
Against a draft resolution on Jerusalem, United States cast its 85th veto
On 18 December 2017, against a draft resolution on the status of Jerusalem, the United States cast its 85th veto. All fourteen other Council members voted affirmatively.
It was not until 1970 that the United States cast its first ever veto, in connection with a resolution on Southern Rhodesia (S/PV.1534). Thereafter, since 1972, the United States has cast a total of 43 vetoes related to Middle East issues. Prior to its most recent veto on 18 December, the United States had last vetoed a resolution, also in connection with the Middle East, on 18 February 2011 (S/PV.6484).
The draft resolution (S/2017/1060) voted upon on 18 December 2017 was submitted by Egypt. In presenting the text for a vote, the Egyptian representative noted that it was being submitted on behalf of the Group of Arab States, “pursuant to the resolution of the emergency meetings of Arab Ministers held in Cairo on 9 December”. No other Security Council member was listed on the draft as a co-sponsor.
All fifteen Council members made statements before or after the vote. The American representative underscored that the “exercise of the veto is not something that the United States does often,” and she noted that it had not done so in more than six years. She justified the present veto as being exercised “in defence of American sovereignty and in defence of America’s role in the Middle East peace process”. She did not respond to any of the legal objections raised by other Council members to the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to relocate the United States embassy to that city. She did, however, argue that the United States “has done more by far than any other country to assist the Palestinian people”, and in this connection she referenced the economic, security and humanitarian assistance given bilaterally to the Palestinians since 1994, as well as voluntary American contributions to UNRWA. Moreover, she rejected the “outrageous claim” that the United States decisions had done anything to harm the prospects for peace.
In their statements, several Council members, including France, indicated that the United States veto had been expected.
As to any legal ramifications of the veto, the Swedish representative stressed that “today’s vote does not impact the resolutions adopted by the Council” previously, and that accordingly the “status of Jerusalem remains unchanged under international law.” The Palestinian observer, speaking as a non-member of the Council, similarly stressed that the Council’s prior relevant resolutions “are binding and remain valid until their implementation.” He underscored that, “A veto cannot negate adopted resolutions.”
In their statements, most of the fourteen Security Council members who voted affirmatively cited previous relevant Council resolutions, specifically 242 (1967), 476 (1980), 478 (1980), and 2334 (2016). The United Kingdom representative was among those who held that “In line with those same resolutions, we regard East Jerusalem as part of the occupied Palestinian territories.” The French representative asserted that the result of the voting “reflects the desire of 14 members of the Council to reaffirm their collective commitment to international law, including the resolutions of the Council, on the key issue of the final status of Jerusalem.” Most of the Council members stated categorically that Jerusalem is a “final status” issue.
As to the specific contents of the draft, the Chinese representative termed it “a continuation of the content and spirit of past Security Council resolutions”, and the Ethiopian representative deemed it “well-balanced”.
However, two Council members criticized how Egypt, as penholder, had handled the draft procedurally. The representative of Uruguay stated that the text “was shared officially on Saturday” and that Egypt had then requested on Sunday that it be put “into blue” and scheduled for a vote on Monday. The Uruguayan representative complained that this occurred without “any negotiations or consultations on the contents of the draft, with the exception of the meeting that just concluded (see S/PV.8138), which also did not include a detailed discussion of its contents.” He added,
“Just as we have criticized permanent members of the Security Council on previous occasions for similar
practices that reduce the transparency of the work of this organ and force the membership to take
decisions without being able to participate in the drafting of the text, we must once again affirm that this
is not the right way to do things in the Council.”
The representative of Ukraine said he wanted to add his “delegation’s voice to the procedural point raised by my colleague from Uruguay.”
In fact, paragraphs 80-82 of the Note by the President S/2017/507, adopted on 30 August 2017, contains specific guidance on the negotiation process for draft outcome documents. It states in part that
“The members of the Security Council also reaffirm that the drafting of all documents such as resolutions
and presidential statements as well as press statements should be carried out in an inclusive manner that
will allow participation of all members of the Council. To that end, the members of the Security Council encourage the penholder or co-penholders, as early as possible in the drafting exercise, to ensure the
exchange of information among all Security Council members and to engage in timely consultations with
all Council members with openness and flexibility. For each draft resolution which is not a technical rollover
or for each presidential statement, the members of the Security Council encourage the penholder or co-penholders to present and discuss the draft with all members of the Security Council in at least one round
of informal consultations or informal-informals. . . .” (our italics)
One factor contributing to the lack of organized discussion among Council members on the Egyptian text was the fact that it was drafted in close collaboration with the UN Arab Group. As noted in the book (page 149), similar difficulties have often arisen in connection with several other agenda items whenever groups which include non-Council Member States “have prepared draft decisions for adoption by the Council without allowing other Council members much opportunity to contribute elements to the text.” The usual reason for limiting the possibilities for Council members to make changes or additions to a draft negotiated by such groups is that the text often reflects difficult compromises within the group. If that has been the case, the Council member acting as penholder has sometimes been reluctant to jeopardize the compromises by reopening the draft to accommodate additional inputs by Council members.
In any event, a draft resolution, very similar to the one vetoed by the United States in the Security Council on 18 December, was thereafter adopted in the General Assembly on 21 December 2017, by a vote of 128 in favour, 9 opposed, and 35 abstentions (A/RES/ES-10/19).
(This update supplements pages 300-311 of the book. See also related article on this website entitled “Veto statistics adjusted to show votes on issues of international peace and security”.)