Jerusalem’s status in the international arena is pretty much stagnant, if the United Nation’s recent annual barrage of anti-Israel resolutions is any indication.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regularly boasts of an “unprecedented blossoming” of Israel’s foreign ties, citing his numerous trips around the globe and his good personal relations with the leaders of countries that hitherto were not considered strong allies of the Jewish state, such as Russia, India, Hungary, the Philippines or Austria.
“Today the foreign relations of the State of Israel are at an all-time high, and there is not even a drop of exaggeration here,” he declared Sunday.
Just two days earlier, however, the UN General Assembly’s “Special Political and Decolonization Committee” passed a series of resolutions dealing with the Israeli-Arab conflict that appear to challenge that assertion.
As they do every fall, the committee’s 193 member states passed with overwhelming majorities eight texts condemning “the occupying power” for its treatment Israel of the Palestinians, urging it to cease settlement construction in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, and expressing unreserved support for UNRWA, the UN agency dealing with Palestinian refugees.
A ninth resolution also passed, though with a much smaller margin.
A very close analysis of Friday’s votes reveals minute improvements, from an Israeli perspective, but by and large diplomats in Jerusalem have little reason to celebrate.
The US remains Israel’s most reliable ally, voting with Israel in every single case. Canada and Australia also defied massive majorities and voted against or abstained on most resolutions against the Jewish state.
But other countries in which Netanyahu has invested substantial diplomatic and political capital have so far failed to let their ostensible friendship with Israel impact their voting at the UN.
Russia and China, for instance, continue to side with the Palestinians in every single vote. India and Kenya, too, voted in favor of all nine resolutions.
Other countries with which Netanyahu claims to have established good relations, such as Argentina, Japan and all 28 members states of the European Union, supported eight of the nine anti-Israel resolutions.
Hungary and Bulgaria, two Central European states Netanyahu recently visited in a bid to “change the hypocritical and hostile attitude of the EU,” as he said earlier this month on his way to a summit with four EU member states in Varna, also backed eight resolutions and abstained on the ninth. As did the Czech Republic and Romania, two countries publicly mulling (but so far stalling) the relocation of their respective embassies to Jerusalem.
Even Germany and Austria — countries that due to their historical responsibility to the Jewish people have declared that Israel’s security is part of their “raison d’etre” — did not dare to break the EU-wide consensus.
Berlin explained that its yes-votes made it possible to “soften the tone” of the various resolutions. In other words, the German delegation negotiated with the motions’ sponsors about the wording, agreeing to support them if some of the harsher anti-Israel language was removed.
Israeli officials say they welcome any effort to substantially change the content of hostile resolutions, but prefer their friends vote against them, rather than trying to achieve cosmetic changes in their wording.
Austria, whose foreign minister told The Times of Israel only last week that Vienna would actively work to inject “some more realism” in the way the international community views Israel, defended its eight yes-votes with the fact that it currently holds the EU presidency, citing the union’s desire for a consensual foreign policy.
And so it was that 153 countries voted in favor of a resolution expressing “grave concern about the continuing systematic violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people by Israel, the occupying power, including that arising from the excessive use of force and military operations causing death and injury to Palestinian civilians, including children, women and non-violent, peaceful demonstrators, as well as journalists, medical personnel and humanitarian personnel.”
It also urged Israel to “dismantle forthwith” the West Bank separation barrier and to cease “discriminatory legislation, policies and actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that violate the human rights of the Palestinian people, including the killing and injury of civilians, the arbitrary detention and imprisonment of civilians, the forced displacement of civilians, including attempts at forced transfers of Bedouin communities.”
Only six countries opposed the motion: Israel, the US, Canada, Australia, the Marshall Islands, and Micronesia.
Nine countries abstained: Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Guatemala, Honduras, Togo, and Palau.
Even if some of these countries may sound surprising, Friday’s vote was not the best result for Israel. In 2014, for instance, eight countries opposed a nearly identical resolution, and 11 abstained. Ten years earlier, in 2004, 149 countries voted “yes,” seven voted “no” and 22 abstained.
Here’s the silver lining
But there is also some good news: there was one motion that for the first time garnered more abstentions than “yes” votes.
Only 77 countries supported Resolution A/C.4/73/L.18, which hails the work of the UN’s Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. A whopping 79 countries abstained — that’s 23 more than just two years ago.
Eight countries opposed the resolution, which is a bit higher than last year, but slightly lower than in previous years.
More significant yet was that the US for the first time voted “no” on a resolution it used to abstain on, thus joining Israel as the lone two voices against Resolution A/C.4/73/L.22, entitled “The Occupied Syrian Golan.” It was adopted with 151 countries in favor and 2 against, with 14 abstentions.
“The United States will no longer abstain when the United Nations engages in its useless annual vote on the Golan Heights. If this resolution ever made sense, it surely does not today,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley declared.
“The resolution is plainly biased against Israel,” she went on, arguing that it “does nothing to bring any parties closer to a peace agreement.”
Netanyahu on Sunday thanked Haley and her boss, President Donald Trump, for this “important and just vote.”
And while it US policy change is indeed noteworthy, it is less dramatic than it may initially seem. Firstly, because the US is not the first country to vote against the resolution: Tuvalu has done so in the past.
And secondly, because the US has always opposed a nearly identical resolution voted on annually in the General Assembly plenary.
In 2016, for instance, the administration of Barack Obama voted against a resolution called “The Syrian Golan,” saying it “believes this resolution prejudges the outcome of final-status negotiations, and that Israel and Syria should resolve the issue of the Syrian Golan through negotiations.”
The US traditionally opposed the latter resolution because it was proposed by Syria (the former was sponsored by two dozen countries).
As welcome as it may be in Israel, Haley’s switching from abstention to “no” in the Fourth Committee appears procedural rather than indicate a substantial change in policy.
A ‘calcified consensus’ at the basis of international diplomacy
To be sure, an analysis of voting at the UN only reflects one aspect of a country’s international standing.
“We’re talking about a longtime international consensus — that territories captured during the Israeli-Arab conflict must be returned to their original owner — and it’s very hard for countries to break that consensus,” said Yigal Palmor, a former spokesperson of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
We must note with satisfaction that some countries show signs of life, can think for themselves and are not bullied by the big blocs
“We have to take into account that this calcified consensus stands at the basis of international diplomacy toward Israel. We can’t ignore that,” he added.
“But at the same time we can see that certain countries do take from time to time the risk to break that consensus. We must note with satisfaction that some countries show signs of life, can think for themselves and are not bullied by the big blocs.”
While Israel will remain at the receiving end of much harsh criticism in multinational forums, its bilateral ties with individual member states seems indeed to be improving, Palmor said.
“It’s true that Prime Minister Netanyahu has managed to garner impressive amount of support from quite a number of governments,” he said, referring primarily to Hungary, the Philippines, Kenya, Rwanda, Brazil, and other non-Western states.
“His detractors will say these are mostly the wrong kinds of government,” Palmor added. “But that’s a matter of taste.”