OTTAWA – Canada abstained from the United Nations’ General Assembly vote that overwhelmingly condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The vote was on a General Assembly resolution calling on the president to rescind his decision. The resolution declares that Jerusalem’s status can be changed only by direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Canada was among 35 countries that abstained. Nine countries – including Israel, Guatemala and Honduras — voted against the motion, and 128 voted in favour.
Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, Marc-Andre Blanchard, said Canada wants to underscore the significance Jerusalem represents for several faith groups.
“Denying the connection between Jerusalem and the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths undermines the integrity of the site for all. We also reiterate the need to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s Holy sites,” Blanchard said.
Shortly before the vote took place, Adam Austen, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, confirmed to CTV News that Canada would abstain.
“We are disappointed that this resolution is one sided and does not advance prospects for peace to which we aspire, which is why we will abstain on today’s vote,” Austen said in a statement.
Canada has previously said it had no plans to relocate the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv, after the Americans announced that they would be relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
“Canada’s longstanding position is that the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. This has been the policy of consecutive governments, both Liberal and Conservative,” Austen said.
In response to the resounding rebuke, U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the U.S. decision is final and suggested that the UN vote harms its credibility.
Haley added that the U.S. contributes copious amounts of money to the UN and its agencies, and floated the idea that her country could spend that cash elsewhere.
“We also have a legitimate expectation that our goodwill is recognized and respected,” Haley said.
“We have an obligation to demand more for our investment; and if our investment fails we have an obligation to spend our resources in more productive ways.”
Ahead of the vote, Trump threatened to cut off U.S. aid to countries that vote against his decision.
Former Canadian ambassador to the UN Paul Heinbeck said Canada was “walking a tightrope” in the vote, with the need to balance its “preservation of principles” while maintaining relations with the U.S.
“Relations with Washington are more important than relations with anybody else,” Heinbeck told CTV’s Power Play on Thursday. “It’s easier for a country like Japan, or maybe Great Britain, Germany, to vote for the resolution and against the United States. They have less at stake than we do.”
Canada is also in the midst of vying for a seat on the UN Security Council. Canada’s two competitors, Ireland and Norway, voted with the majority in favour of the motion.
“It’s not going to strengthen our position, but it isn’t going to weaken it as much as it would otherwise have done,” Heinbeck said.
However, he added that 17 members of the G20 voted in favour of the motion, and so Canada is “not in a very enviable position.”
Earlier this week, Freeland and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discussed the issue during his visit to Ottawa.
“Canada and the United States have different views on issues and I think that we have a strong enough relationship — both our two countries and Rex and I personally — that we’re able to be candid about those differences and explain them to one another,” Freeland said on Tuesday during a joint press conference with Tillerson.
With files from The Associated Press, The Canadian Press and CTV National News correspondent Michel Boyer
DEVELOPING: Canada abstains for UN Vote on Jerusalem. Here’s Canada’s full statement. pic.twitter.com/Xgy0XIXh1N
— Michel Boyer (@BoyerMichel) December 21, 2017