After rebuffing US at UNSC, Israel set to back General Assembly vote slamming Russia

US expressed disappointment that Israel didn’t co-sponsor Security Council resolution; latest vote, which could take place Wednesday, is sure to pass

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Iran's then-president Hassan Rouhani addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Iran's then-president Hassan Rouhani addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Israel is leaning toward supporting a United Nations General Assembly resolution later this week that will condemn Russia for invading Ukraine, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

The Israeli official said that a decision not to co-sponsor a similar resolution on Friday in the Security Council was partially due to the recognition that Russia was going to veto the measure anyway. The US, which had asked Israel to back the Security Council vote, is understood to have told Israel it was disappointed by that stance.

With the General Assembly resolution almost certain to pass the 193-member body, since individual countries don’t have the power to scuttle such measures on their own, Israel feels like it will have a harder time justifying not supporting the resolution, the official said.

Some in Jerusalem are pushing to abstain from the vote, which could take place as early as Wednesday, the official added.

Israel has been seeking to balances its warm relations with both Ukraine and Russia during the war.

The Security Council voted on Sunday to convene a rare emergency special session of the General Assembly on Monday to discuss the Ukraine invasion, though this meeting will not include a vote on the resolution Israel is planning to support.

While General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, they do carry political weight, and the US is looking to build on the 100 countries that voted to condemn Russia over its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The Ynet news site reported Sunday that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told his cabinet Sunday evening that Israel would indeed back the General Assembly resolution.

The premier said that he did not expect Russia to hold the decision against Israel, so long as Jerusalem continues to keep a low profile on the matter. The prime minister urged ministers not to speak publicly about the Ukraine invasion to avoid a diplomatic spat with Moscow, according to the report, which could not be immediately confirmed.

Vasily Nebenzya, Russian ambassador to the United Nations, participates in a vote during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A source familiar with the matter confirmed an Axios report that the US expressed its disappointment to Israel after Jerusalem refused to co-sponsor Friday’s Security Council vote. US envoy to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield dressed down Israeli UN envoy Gilad Erdan over Jerusalem’s refusal to co-sponsor the resolution, the report said.

UN Ambassadors from Israel Gilad Erdan, from the UAE Lana Nusseibah, from the US Linda Thomas-Greenfield, from Morocco Omar Hilale, and from Bahrain Jamal Al Rowaiei at a New York event marking the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords, September 13, 2021. (Jacob Magid/ Times of Israel)

The US mission reached out to dozens of countries, asking them to back the resolution, a Western diplomat said. Non-Security Council members were still able to co-sponsor the resolution, even though they could not vote on it.

Eighty-one countries answered the US call and signed on as co-sponsors, according to an official list obtained by The Times of Israel.

The Israeli mission referred the matter back to Jerusalem for guidance, where a decision was reached shortly before the vote to avoid joining such a strong gesture against Russia, another official told The Times of Israel.

Ultimately, Russia vetoed the resolution, while India, the UAE and China abstained. Eleven of the council’s 15 members voted in favor.

A Russian military vehicle burns next to a soldier’s body in Kharkiv, Ukraine, February 27, 2022. (Sergey Bobok/AFP)

The resolution deplored “in the strongest terms” Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine and demanded the immediate withdrawal of its troops.

Following the vote, the US released a joint statement with the vast majority of the resolution’s co-sponsors, saying “Russia has abused its power today to veto our strong resolution. But Russia cannot veto our voices. Russia cannot veto the Ukrainian people. Russia cannot veto their own people protesting this war in the streets. Russia cannot veto the UN Charter. Russia cannot, and will not, veto accountability.”

Israel is one of the few countries that maintains warm relations with both Ukraine, a fellow Western democracy, as well as with Russia.

Israel’s ties with Russia are sensitive because of the Kremlin’s alliance with Syria, where Israel carries out airstrikes against Iran-linked targets. Russian forces maintain a presence in Syria and coordinate with Israel.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked Bennett use Israel’s position between Ukraine and Russia to mediate peace talks. Bennett proposed the idea on Sunday to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who did not take it up, reports said.

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