New Security Council slightly better for Israel, but no game-changer

Jerusalem’s situation in key UN body remains volatile with the entry of Sweden, the first EU state to recognize ‘Palestine,’ though Kazakhstan provides diplomatic toehold

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Members of the UN Security Council vote during a meeting on sanctions against North Korea on  March 2, 2016 at the United Nations in New York. (AFP/Don Emmert)
Members of the UN Security Council vote during a meeting on sanctions against North Korea on March 2, 2016 at the United Nations in New York. (AFP/Don Emmert)

A shake-up this week at the United Nations Security Council promises a slightly improved situation for Jerusalem, even though arch-critic Sweden is among the new members, but the fresh constellation is unlikely to change the balance of power on issues related to the peace process with the Palestinians.

Five new members were elected to the key decision-making body: Bolivia, Ethiopia, Sweden and Kazakhstan — and Italy and the Netherlands, which received the same number of votes and decided to split the two-year term (Italy will take 2017; the Netherlands 2018).

Overall, the new Security Council mix, which takes effect on January 1, 2017, is unlikely to drastically improve or worsen the Palestinians’ chances to advance one-sided resolutions against Israel.

Israeli diplomats are sure to be dismayed about Sweden, the first Western European country to formally recognize a Palestinian state, garnering a spot on the body — one of the few in the UN universe whose decisions are actually binding.

Relations with Stockholm, which takes over Spain’s spot on the council, have also been particularly sour because of controversial comments by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström. To Israeli outrage, she has called for investigations into Israelis ostensibly illegally executing Palestinian assailants during the recent wave of terror.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom answers journalists' questions on October 30, 2014 at the government building Rosenbad in Stockholm. (photo credit: AFP/TT NEWS AGENCY/ANNIKA AF KLERCKER)
Margot Wallstrom in 2014 in Stockholm (AFP/TT News Agency/Annika Af Klercker)

“This is definitely wrong and it singles out Israel in an absurd way,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this year, referring to Wallström’s comments. “I haven’t examined the motives of this or that minister. I just tell you, it’s outrageous, it’s immoral and it’s stupid.”

Ramallah, on the other hand, is pleased with Sweden’s election. One Palestine Liberation Organization official suggested on Twitter that Stockholm’s foreign policy — including the recognition of Palestinian statehood — “works better” than critics have claimed.

Sweden’s campaign for a Security Council seat focused on issues of “peace” and stability, but in an article Wallström wrote after winning the vote, she did not spell out any particular initiatives regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Our Middle East policy promotes a peace process that will lead to a two-state solution and an end to Daesh’s ruthless savagery,” she wrote, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State terror group.

Offsetting Sweden’s arrival for Jerusalem are Italy and the Netherlands, considered good friends of Israel. The two EU member states are replacing New Zealand, which openly toyed with the notion of launching its own initiative to relaunch the peace process, an idea Jerusalem ardently opposed.

The election of Ethiopia, which replaces Angola, is also good news for Jerusalem. Israel has warm ties with the eastern African nation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Addis Ababa next week is expected to further strengthen that relationship.

Kazakhstan replaces Malaysia, and while Astana can be expected to follow Moscow’s lead in Security Council votes and support all Palestinian initiatives, at least Jerusalem has good diplomatic relations with Kazakhstan, including a full-time ambassador in Astana. Netanyahu is rumored to be planning a visit to the Central Asian country later this year, though his office has not confirmed such plans. (Israel has an economic relationship but no formal diplomatic ties with Kuala Lumpur.)

US legislators have asked Bolivian President Evo Morales to intervene in a case that has resulted in corruption charges against his own officials. (Photo credit: CC BY/Sebastian Baryli via
Bolivia’s Evo Morales (CC BY/Sebastian Baryli via

Bolivia is replacing Venezuela, which means that one country that has no diplomatic relations with Israel is replacing another. But while Bolivian leader Evo Morales has called Israel a “terrorist state” committing a “genocide” on the Palestinians, Bolivia’s term on the Security Council is unlikely to be more challenging for Israel than that of Venezuela, which used its position to launch repeated aggressive attacks against the Jewish state.

All told, Israel’s position at the Security Council is likely to remain extremely volatile in 2017.

A renewed Palestinian effort to pass a resolution calling for an Israeli withdrawal from beyond the pre-1967 lines would require nine votes from the council’s 15 members. If that were to occur, one of its five permanent members — the US, the UK, China, France and Russia — could veto the resolution.

China, Russia, Egypt, Senegal, Bolivia, France, Sweden and Kazakhstan are certain to support any Palestinian text. How the remaining members of the council — Britain, Ethiopia, Italy, Japan, Ukraine and Uruguay — would vote would depend on the resolution’s wording and on the effectiveness of Israeli diplomacy in New York and with the relevant capitals.

The United States, which has traditionally rejected Security Council resolutions targeting Israel, remains the key player in any possible diplomatic showdown at Turtle Bay.

While administration officials vow to continue opposing unfair treatment of the Jewish state at the UN, Jerusalem worries that US President Barack Obama might used the period between the US elections in November and Inauguration Day in January to leave his mark on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, possibly by supporting a resolution at the Security Council.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, said on Israel Radio this week his American colleagues continue to assure him of their longstanding position against efforts to internationalize the conflict, “but it’s my business to worry,” he said.

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