Palestinian killed in anti-U.S. protests after U.N. vote on Jerusalem

A Palestinian demonstrator uses a slingshot to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest as Palestinians call for a "Day of Rage" in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in the West Bank city of Hebron December 22, 2017.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinians launched more anti-U.S. protests on Friday, and at least one demonstrator was killed in the Gaza Strip, a health official said, after the U.N. General Assembly rejected Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Smoke billowed from burning tires at a demonstration in Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, two days before Christmas celebrations in the biblical town.

Israeli gunfire killed a 24-year-old Palestinian and wounded 10 other protesters during a stone-throwing demonstration in the southern Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Palestinian Health Ministry there said. The Israeli military said it was checking the report.

One of the wounded, part of a crowd that approached the border fence chanting that U.S. President Donald Trump was a “fool” and a “coward”, was dressed as Santa Claus, witnesses said.

Protests erupted in all of the West Bank’s seven cities and in East Jerusalem. Health officials said at least five Palestinians were wounded by rubber bullets fired by Israeli security forces, who also used tear gas.

Defying the United States on Thursday, the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution calling for the United States to drop its Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem, a city revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians, as Israel’s capital.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in a Christmas message, condemned Trump’s reversal of a decades-old U.S. policy on Jerusalem “an insult to millions of people worldwide, and also to the city of Bethlehem”.

“HOUSE OF LIES”

Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.

Most countries regard the status of Jerusalem as a matter to be settled in an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, although that process is now stalled.

Nine countries voted against the U.N. resolution and 35 abstained. Twenty-one countries did not cast a vote.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists, called the U.N. vote a defeat for Trump, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected it as “preposterous” and branded the U.N. a “house of lies”.

But Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, seemed to play down the support for the resolution shown by many countries Israel considers friends.

“We have an interest in tightening our bilateral relations with a long list of countries in the world, and expect and hope that one day, they will vote with us, or for us in the United Nations,” Oren said on Tel Aviv radio station 102 FM.

“But I am not prepared to suspend all cooperation with important countries, such as India,” he said. Netanyahu, who hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July, is due to visit New Delhi next month.

Palestinians have protested daily since Trump’s Jerusalem announcement, throwing stones at Israeli security forces. Gaza militants have also launched sporadic rocket fire.

Friday’s death in Gaza raised to nine the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli gunfire during the demonstrations, Palestinian health officials said, and dozens have been wounded. Two militants were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza after a rocket attack. There have been no Israeli fatalities or significant injuries.

“EXCESSIVE FORCE”

Amnesty International on Friday called on Israeli authorities to stop using “excessive force”.

“The fact that live ammunition has been used during protests in Gaza and the West Bank is particularly shocking,” it said.

In the run-up to the U.N. vote, Trump threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that supported the resolution. His warning appeared to have some impact, with more countries abstaining and rejecting the document than usually associated with Palestinian-related resolutions.

But most of the European Union, Israel’s biggest trading partner, and countries such as Greece, Cyprus and India, with which Netanyahu has pursued closer relations and economic ties, backed the resolution.

“I prefer we have tight bilateral relations over a situation in which we don’t have close bilateral relations, and they vote in our favor in the United Nations,” Oren said, describing India’s vote as “certainly disappointing”.

Asked if Israel wanted the United States to cut aid to countries that endorsed the resolution, Oren said: “I prefer … that if there’s room for revenge, it be directed towards the United Nations and not the U.N.’s members.”

He said he supported cutting U.S. contributions to the U.N. and perhaps relocating its New York headquarters, noting it occupies “some of the most valuable real estate in New York”.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Michelle Nichols at the U.N.; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Israel’s Netanyahu calls U.N. ‘house of lies’ before Jerusalem vote

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem December 17, 2017

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the United Nations as a “house of lies” ahead of a vote on Thursday on a draft resolution calling on the United States to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The State of Israel totally rejects this vote, even before (the resolution’s) approval,” Netanyahu said in a speech at a hospital dedication in the port city of Ashdod.

The 193-member U.N. General Assembly will hold a rare emergency special session on Thursday at the request of Arab and Muslim countries to vote on the draft resolution, which the United States vetoed on Monday in the 15-member U.N. Security Council.

Generating outrage from Palestinians and the Arab and Muslim world, and concern among Washington’s Western allies, President Donald Trump abruptly reversed decades of U.S. policy on Dec. 6 when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Palestinians have protested daily in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip since Trump’s announcement, throwing stones at security forces and burning tires. Gaza militants have also launched sporadic rocket fire.

Eight Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire during the demonstrations and dozens wounded, Palestinian health officials said. Two militants were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza after a rocket attack.

Trump threatened on Wednesday to cut off financial aid to countries that vote in favor of the U.N. draft resolution, and his ambassador to the world body, Nikki Haley said the United States “will be taking names”.

Netanyahu, in his speech, thanked Trump and Haley for “their brave and uncompromising stance”. He repeated his prediction that other countries would eventually follow Washington’s lead in pledging to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“The attitude towards Israel of many countries, on all continents, outside the walls of the United Nations, is changing and will ultimately permeate into the U.N. – the house of lies,” he said.

Most countries regard the status of Jerusalem as a matter to be settled in an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, although that process is now stalled.

Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.

Several senior diplomats said Haley’s warning was unlikely to change many votes in the General Assembly, where such direct,public threats are rare. Some diplomats brushed off the warning as more likely aimed at impressing U.S. voters.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Ori Lewis and Angus MacSwan)

As North Korea threat looms, Trump to address world leaders at U.N.

U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a session on reforming the United Nations at UN Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – North Korea’s nuclear threat looms large this week over the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York, where diplomats are eager to hear U.S. President Donald Trump address the 193-member body for the first time.

North Korean diplomats will have a front-row seat in the U.N. General Assembly for Trump’s speech on Tuesday morning, which will touch on the escalating crisis that has seen Trump and Pyongyang trade threats of military action.

Despite his skepticism about the value of international organizations and the United Nations in particular, Trump will seek support for tough measures against North Korea, while pressing his “America First” message to the world body.

“This is not an issue between the United States and North Korea. This is an issue between the world and North Korea,” Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said on Friday.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – who, like Trump, took office in January – plans to meet separately with “concerned parties,” including North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, on the sidelines of the 72nd General Assembly.

“The solution can only be political. Military action could cause devastation on a scale that would take generations to overcome,” Guterres warned on Wednesday.

A week ago, the 15-member U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted its ninth sanctions resolution since 2006 over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said U.N. sanctions had banned 90 percent of the Asian state’s publicly reported exports, saying of Pyongyang on Friday: “This is totally in their hands on how they respond.”

Haley told CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday that Washington had “pretty much exhausted” its options on North Korea at the Security Council.

Ri is due to address the General Assembly on Friday.

 

IRAN

Some leaders will also push Trump not to give up on a 2015 deal curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions in return for a lifting of U.N., U.S. and European sanctions, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was time to “fix it – or cancel it.”

The foreign ministers of Iran, the United States, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and France – the parties to the agreement – are due to meet on Wednesday ahead of an October deadline for Trump to tell Congress if he believes Tehran is sticking to what he has described as “the worst deal ever negotiated.”

When asked on Friday what Moscow’s message would be for Washington, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said: “Stay in the JCPOA (the nuclear deal).”

A senior U.N. Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “We are faced with real uncertainties with respect to North Korea and it’s a bit dangerous … to add another source of uncertainty with respect to Iran.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday his country would not be bullied by the United States and would react strongly to any “wrong move” by Washington on the nuclear deal.

Iran and North Korea will also feature heavily during a ministerial Security Council meeting on Thursday, at the request of the United States, to discuss the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

 

MYANMAR, CLIMATE, U.N. REFORM

While leaders and diplomats are also due to meet on longer-running crises including Libya, Syria, South Sudan, Mali, Central African Republic, Yemen and Iraq, a last-minute addition has been Myanmar, where the United Nations has branded violence against Rohingya Muslims as “ethnic cleansing.”

Britain is due to host a ministerial meeting on Monday to seek a way to get Myanmar authorities to end a military offensive in the country’s Rakhine state that has sent more than 400,000 minority Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh.

Following Trump’s announcement that the United States would withdraw from a landmark 2015 global agreement to fight climate change, several high-level gatherings are planned on the sidelines of the General Assembly to bolster the deal.

“Climate change is a serious threat,” Guterres told reporters. “Hurricanes and floods around the world remind us that extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and severe, due to climate change.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to hold the door open for the United States to remain in the Paris climate accord “under the right conditions.”

“The president said he is open to finding those conditions where we can remain engaged with others on what we all agree is still a challenging issue,” Tillerson said on CBS’ “Face The Nation” program on Sunday.

Trump will seek to boost support for reforming the United Nations, which he once called “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

The United States is the largest U.N. contributor and Trump has complained that Washington pays too much.

“The United Nations, of course, holds tremendous potential to realize its founding ideals, but only if it’s run more efficiently and effectively,” McMaster said on Friday.

 

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Peter Cooney)

 

U.S. Republican senator introduces Obamacare repeal resolution

The federal government forms for applying for health coverage are seen at a rally held by supporters of the Affordable Care Act, widely referred to as "Obamacare", outside the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican U.S. Senator Mike Enzi introduced on Tuesday a resolution allowing for the repeal of President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance program, which provides coverage to millions of Americans, Enzi’s office said in a statement.

The move by the Senate’s budget committee chairman on the first day of the new Congress set in motion the Republican majority’s promise to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, as its first major legislative item.

Republicans have said the repeal process could take months and that developing replacement health insurance plans could take years.

More than 20 million previously uninsured Americans gained health coverage through Obamacare. Coverage was extended by expanding the Medicaid program for the poor and through online exchanges where consumers can receive income-based subsidies.

Republicans have launched repeated courtroom and legislative efforts to dismantle the law, criticizing it as government overreach. Democrats have scoffed at Republicans’ plans, accusing them of never having united around a replacement strategy.

The Republicans are using a budget resolution to provide for Obamacare’s repeal, allowing them to act without any Democratic votes. Budget resolutions require a simple majority to pass in the Senate, instead of the 60 votes normally required to clear procedural hurdles. There are 52 Republicans in the 100-seat chamber.

The budget resolution contains so-called reconciliation instructions, directing committees to dismantle Obamacare as part of reconciling taxes and spending with the budget blueprint – and to report back to the budget committee by Jan. 27.

A Senate vote on the resolution could come next week, with action in the House of Representatives expected to follow. But the repeal process won’t be complete until the committees finish the reconciliation procedure and votes are taken on their work.

“These instructions to committees are provided to facilitate immediate action on repeal, with the intent of sending legislation to the new president’s desk as soon as possible,” the statement from Enzi’s office said.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly vowed during last year’s presidential campaign to repeal Obamacare.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott and Paul Simao)

Netanyahu seeks to rally Israelis around him in anti-Obama assault

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Benjamin Netanyahu has been unrelenting in his criticism of the  Obama administration over what he condemned as its “shameful” decision not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a halt to Israeli settlement-building.

But with the clock ticking down on Barack Obama’s presidency, a possibly more amenable Republican Donald Trump waiting in the wings and a $38 billion U.S. military aid package to Israel a done deal, it’s all a calculated risk for the four-term, right-wing Israeli prime minister.

Netanyahu, after what critics are calling a stinging defeat on the international stage, is already maneuvering to mine deep-seated feelings among many Israelis that their country and its policies toward the Palestinians are overly criticized in a world where deadlier conflicts rage.

He has tried to rally Israelis around him by attempting to portray the anti-settlement resolution as a challenge to Israel’s claimed sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.

That was hammered home with an unscheduled Hanukkah holiday visit to the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, which is located in Jerusalem’s Old City in the eastern sector captured along with the West Bank in a 1967 war.

That all of Jerusalem is their country’s capital is a consensus view among Israelis, including those who otherwise have doubts about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s support for settlements on the West Bank.

Palestinians claim eastern Jerusalem as their capital, and Washington has in the past accepted an international view that the city’s status must be determined at future peace talks. But Trump has promised to reverse decades of U.S. policy by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“I did not plan to be here this evening but in light of the U.N. resolution I thought that there was no better place to light the second Hanukkah candle than the Western Wall,” Netanyahu said during the event.

“I ask those same countries that wish us a Happy Hanukkah how they could vote for a U.N. resolution which says that this place, in which we are now celebrating Hanukkah, is occupied territory?”

Some 570,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as part of a future state.

At the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu brushed aside a White House denial and again accused the Obama administration of colluding with the Palestinians in the U.N. move against the settlements, which are considered illegal by most countries and described as illegitimate by Washington.

Disputing this, Israel cites biblical, historical and political links to the West Bank and Jerusalem, as well as security concerns.

The diplomatic drama unfolded over the Christmas holiday, with twists and turns unusual even for the serpentine path followed by Netanyahu’s relationship with a Democratic president who opposes settlement building.

On Thursday, Netanyahu successfully lobbied Egypt, which proposed the draft resolution, to withdraw it – enlisting the help of President-elect Trump to persuade Cairo to drop the bid.

But the Israeli leader was ultimately outmaneuvered at the United Nations, where New Zealand, Venezuela, Senegal and Malaysia, resubmitted the proposal a day later.

It passed 14-0, with an abstention from the United States, withholding Washington’s traditional use of its veto to protect Israel at the world body in what was widely seen as a parting shot by Obama against Netanyahu and his settlement policy.

ACCELERATED CONSTRUCTION

A U.S. official said key to Washington’s decision was  concern that Israel would continue to accelerate settlement construction in occupied territory and put a two-state solution of the conflict with the Palestinians at risk.

The resolution adopted on Friday at the U.N. changes nothing on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians and likely will be all but ignored by the incoming Trump administration.

However, Israeli officials fear it could spur further Palestinian moves against Israel in international forums.

“The Obama administration made a shameful, underhanded move,” Netanyahu said after the vote. It was some of the sharpest criticism he has voiced against Obama, who got off on the wrong foot with Israelis when he skipped their country during a Middle East visit after first taking office in 2009.

In a further display of anger, Netanyahu summoned the U.S. ambassador to meet him during a day of reprimands delivered at the Foreign Ministry to envoys of the 10 countries with embassies in Israel among the 14 that backed the resolution.

Netanyahu, who is vying with the ultranationalist Jewish Home Party in his governing coalition for right-wing voters, also took aim at what has become a favorite target – an Israeli media he has been painting as left-wing and unpatriotic.

“Leftist political parties and TV commentators have been rubbing their hands in glee over the anti-Israeli decision at the United Nations, almost like the Palestinian Authority and Hamas,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page.

But more trouble for the Israeli leader could be ahead at a planned 70-nation, French-hosted conference on Middle East peace due to convene in Paris on Jan. 15, five days before Obama hands over to Trump.

“(Netanyahu) fears there is a U.S.-French move brewing before January 20th, possibly a declarative step at the French peace convention,” said an Israeli official who attended an Israeli security cabinet session on Sunday.

(Editing by Peter Graff)

Defying pressure, U.S. lets U.N. denounce Israeli settlements

A construction site is seen in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, in the occupied West Bank

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States on Friday allowed the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building, defying heavy pressure from long-time ally Israel and President-elect Donald Trump for Washington to wield its veto.

A U.S. abstention paved the way for the 15-member council to approve the resolution, with 14 votes in favor, prompting applause in the council chamber. The action by President Barack Obama’s administration follows growing U.S. frustration over the unrelenting construction of Jewish settlements on land Palestinians want for a future independent state.

“Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the U.N. and will not abide by its terms,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has encouraged the expansion of Jewish settlements in territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbors, said in a statement.

The U.S. action just weeks before Obama ends eight years as president broke with the long-standing American approach of shielding Israel, which receives more than $3 billion in annual U.S. military aid, from such action. The United States, Russia, France, Britain and China have veto power on the council.

The resolution, put forward by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal a day after Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and Trump, was the first adopted by the council on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.

The U.S. abstention was seen as a parting shot by Obama, who has had an acrimonious relationship with Netanyahu and whose efforts to forge a peace agreement based on a “two-state” solution of creating a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel have proven futile.

Obama also faced pressure from U.S. lawmakers, fellow Democrats as well as Republicans, to veto the measure, and was hit with bipartisan criticism after the vote.

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, took the extraordinary step by a U.S. president-elect of personally intervening in a sensitive foreign policy matter before taking office, speaking by telephone with Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before Egypt, another major U.S. aid recipient, dropped the resolution.

Trump wrote on Twitter after the vote, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.”

“There is one president at a time,” Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, told reporters, dismissing Trump’s criticism.

Outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the resolution. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called on Israel to “respect international law.”

But Netanyahu said, “At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half a million people in Syria, it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel, and calls the Western Wall ‘occupied territory.'”

Israel for decades has pursued a policy of constructing Jewish settlements on territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbors including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Most countries view Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees.

‘NO LEGAL VALIDITY’

The resolution demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” and said the establishment of settlements by Israel has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”

The White House said that in the absence of any meaningful peace process, Obama made the decision to abstain. The last round of U.S.-led peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians collapsed in 2014. The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

“We could not in good conscience veto a resolution that expressed concerns about the very trends that are eroding the foundation for a two-state solution,” Rhodes said.

American U.N ambassador Samantha Power said the United States did not veto it because the resolution “reflects the facts on the ground and is consistent with U.S. policy across Republican and Democratic administrations.”

Successive U.S. administrations of both parties have criticized settlement activity but have done little to slow their growth.

The Obama administration has called settlement expansion an “illegitimate” policy that has undermined chances of a peace deal.

The Security Council last adopted a resolution critical of settlements in 1979, with the United States also abstaining.

The passage of Friday’s resolution changes nothing on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians and likely will be all but ignored by the incoming Trump administration.

But it was more than merely symbolic. It formally enshrined the international community’s disapproval of Israeli settlement building and could spur further Palestinian moves against Israel in international forums.

PALESTINIAN SAYS U.N. MOVE ‘BIG BLOW’ TO ISRAEL POLICY

Trump is likely to be a more staunch supporter of Netanyahu’s right-wing policies. He has picked a hardline pro-Israel ambassador and vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in what would be a major reversal of long-standing American policy.

The U.N. action was “a big blow to Israeli policy, a unanimous international condemnation of settlements and a strong support for the two-state solution,” a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement published by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

“This is a day of victory for international law, a victory for civilized language and negotiation, and a total rejection of extremist forces in Israel,” Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters.

Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, said he had no doubt the incoming Trump administration and Ban’s successor as U.N. chief, former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres, “will usher in a new era in terms of the U.N.’s relationship with Israel.”

After the vote, Netanyahu instructed Israel’s ambassadors in New Zealand and Senegal to return to Israel for consultations. He also ordered the cancellation of a planned visit to Israel by Senegal’s foreign minister and the cancellation of all aid programs to Senegal.

(Writing by Will Dunham and Yara Bayoumy; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Lesley Wroughton and Susan Heavey in Washington, Matt Spetalnick in New York and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman)