United Nations votes on Israel and the Palestinians are usually foregone conclusions. As the late foreign minister and former UN envoy Abba Eban famously quipped, “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”
On Wednesday, Algeria introduced a resolution that condemned Israel for “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force” during the recent protests at the Gaza border and called for the “protection” of Palestinians.
While this particular outcome surprised no one, what happened in the immediate prelude to the vote was highly unusual and appeared to mark a crack in the international body’s automatic majority against all things Israel.
Outraged over the failure of the resolution to mention Hamas even once — the source of much of the violence emanating from the coastal enclave — the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, proposed an amendment that would have condemned the terrorist group.
Algeria, which had proposed the resolution together with Turkey, called for a “no-action motion,” which would have prevented a vote on the amendment. According to General Assembly rules, the motion was put to a vote of all member states.
Surprisingly, 78 countries — including all European Union member states, and yes, even Sweden — opposed Algeria’s move. Only 59 countries — the usual suspects from the Arab bloc and the Non-aligned Movement — supported it.
Abba Eban would have been stunned.
But the defeat of Algeria’s effort to protect Hamas was not even the most dramatic thing that happened on Wednesday afternoon in Turtle Bay.
Haley’s amendment, which blasted Hamas for firing rockets at Israel and for “inciting violence” at the Gaza border, and demanded the group “cease all violent activity and provocative actions,” went on to garner a majority of votes.
It was a slim majority — 62 to 58, with 42 abstentions — but it was dramatic nonetheless. It underlined that Israel’s enemies don’t automatically win every single vote in the international body, and showed that more countries wanted to temper the anti-Israel resolution they were about to support with a condemnation of Hamas than not.
“Thanks to the combined efforts with our American friends and our allies from around the world, we proved today that the automatic majority against Israel in the UN is not destiny and can be changed,” Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon said.
Haley, too, observed that the “ common practice of turning a blind eye to the UN’s anti-Israel bias is changing.”
“We had more countries on the right side than the wrong side,” she said. “By their votes, those countries recognized that peace will only be achieved when realities are recognized, including Israel’s legitimate security interests, and the need to end Hamas’ terrorism.”
Today more countries at the UN voted for a US effort to hold Hamas accountable in Gaza than voted against. pic.twitter.com/BLXs8bsZ56
— US Mission to the UN (@USUN) June 13, 2018
But Algeria, trying to avert an embarrassing defeat, cited General Assembly Rule 84, which stated that “amendments to proposals relating to important questions… shall be made by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting.”
General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák, of Slovakia, agreed with Algiers, but Haley didn’t give up. General Assembly Rule 71 grants any ambassador the right to appeal against the president’s ruling, she said.
Lajčák adjourned the session for a few minutes and then put her appeal to a vote. A simple majority would have overruled the president. Sixty-six countries voted in favor — four more than had backed her amendment — but 72 voted against her appeal.
The original resolution, without any mention of Hamas, was then overwhelmingly approved by 120 countries, with only the US, Israel, Australia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Togo and the Solomon Islands voting against it.
Wednesday’s vote thus is likely to get mixed reviews in Jerusalem. On the one hand, the resolution’s passage by 120-8 was another stinging defeat for Israel, and a huge success for Ramallah’s diplomatic warfare against the Jewish state. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to get away with murder, despite much of the international community formally considering it a terrorist organization.
On the other hand, Israel and the US can find some solace in the fact that more countries voted in favor of condemning Hamas for attacking Israelis than voted against it.
In the UN’s universe, where the world is flat because Israel flattened it, it was no small feat.