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UN World body vote a setback but US key to Mideast peace hopes

Washington's latest overwhelming defeat at the United Nations may have been an embarrassment, but any claim it has lost its role as Middle East peace mediator will likely prove premature.

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The voting results are displayed on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly in which the United States declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital was declared "null and void" on December 21, 2017 in New York City play

The voting results are displayed on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly in which the United States declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital was declared "null and void" on December 21, 2017 in New York City

(GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)
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Washington's latest overwhelming defeat at the United Nations may have been an embarrassment, but any claim it has lost its role as Middle East peace mediator will likely prove premature.

A huge majority of UN member states, including close US allies and major aid recipients, voted Thursday to reject President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Underscoring the significance of the defeat, US ambassador Nikki Haley had warned that Trump would be watching and that she would be "taking names" of countries who let him down.

But -- once again -- Trump's "America First" policy delivered an "America Alone" result, leaving some Palestinians crowing that the United States can no longer serve as peace mediator.

Vice President Mike Pence had already postponed a trip he was due to make to the region this week, after Palestinian and Arab Christian leaders had proved reluctant to meet him.

Peace broker

So, perhaps Washington will have to keep its powder dry for a few weeks as dust settles, some experts acknowledge.

But if there is ever to be a long-elusive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, only one broker can deliver it.

"There's been peaks and valleys before on this issue," said David Makovsky, a peace process veteran and senior fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"If I had a dollar every time people said 'Oh, it's over now, the US is not the broker..." he told AFP ironically.

Dan Shapiro, who served as former president Barack Obama's ambassador to Israel, dismissed the vote as a "pathetic UN circus" and urged Washington to refocus on its goal.

"What is US strategy to end the conflict, achieve two states, avoid permanent binational reality? Or at least keep those goals alive?" he demanded, on Twitter.

That strategy should reveal itself in the coming weeks or months, when Trump's son-in-law and peace envoy Jared Kushner reveals his hotly anticipated blueprint.

Almost since Trump has been in office Kushner and his fellow real estate lawyer Jason Greenblatt have been shuttling between the White House and the region drawing up plans.

Few details have leaked, but Washington gossip assumes it will be a less prescriptive version of the plan to see Israel and Palestine negotiate the borders of two states.

Kushner and Greenblatt initially made a good impression on leaders in the region, despite Palestinian fears that Trump is sympathetic to Israeli settlement building on occupied land.

But America's unilateral decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital without the parties first agreeing a division of sovereignty in the holy city outraged Palestinians.

Planned meetings with Pence were cancelled and, at the United Nations on Thursday Palestinian envoys tasted bitter victory when the world largely united to condemn Trump's position.

Peace parameters

"One hundred twenty-eight versus nine -- that's a massive setback for the United States of America," Ambassador Riyad Mansour told AFP, after the vote.

But if the Palestinians are now hoping for a more convenable mediator, they stand to be disappointed.

France -- along with other key US allies like Britain, Turkey and Saudi Arabia -- voted to censure Trump, but French envoy Ambassador Francois Delattre played down its importance.

"Today's resolution simply reaffirms the international law that applies to Jerusalem," he told reporters.

"It is more important than ever to unite the international community behind agreed peace process parameters, including of course the United States," he said.

Of Washington's mediation, the ambassador added: "Everyone knows the special role and weight they have in this dossier."

So, however the Palestinians fell today after a rare procedural victory, next year they may find themselves obliged to engage with whatever new plan Kushner comes up with.

Makovsky argued that Trump had never ruled out a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem, and said US officials should have gone on Arab television to explain this.

"Look at what the guy said; that he wanted to leave this open to the parties to negotiate whatever sovereignty arrangements they want, including the religious sites," he argued.

"So I wouldn't say this is dead and buried," he told AFP.

"My feeling is that if Kushner and Greenblatt actually put forward a peace plan in the first quarter of 2018. I think [the Palestinians] would have to take it seriously."

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