AnalysisIreland was actually inclined to vote in favor

Why nobody but the US voted against the UN’s anti-Israel resolution

The EU states tried to get the Palestinians to agree to a more balanced text, but eventually decided to abstain

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A UN Human Rights Council Meeting in Geneva in May 2013. (photo credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)
A UN Human Rights Council Meeting in Geneva in May 2013. (photo credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

Once again, it seems, Israel has been forsaken in its time of need, abandoned by what it thought were its friends. Once again, it feels unfairly singled out, condemned for alleged crimes it committed while defending its citizens against a terrorist enemy that is getting away with murder.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted on a heavily one-sided resolution condemning “in the strongest terms the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations” in Gaza. The Geneva-based council, which has a long history of anti-Israel bias, also declared a new “international commission of inquiry” into the events currently unfolding in Israel and Gaza, in what observers are calling a new Goldstone report.

Only the United States voted against the resolution. Twenty-nine nations voted in favor, among them not only the usual suspects such as Saudi Arabia, Algeria and South Africa, but also some ostensible friends of Israel, including Russia, Kenya, India and Mexico.

Equally hurtful for Israel, if not more so, were the abstentions of the eight European Union member states who had the right to vote: Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Romania and the United Kingdom. (Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are not EU members but also abstained; non-member states Iceland, Serbia, Albania and Liechtenstein aligned themselves with the EU position.)

Yes, even the Czech Republic, which in November 2012 was the only EU country to oppose granting the Palestinians nonmember state status at the UN, did not vote against a resolution that denounces Israel for “disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks, including aerial bombardment of civilian areas, the targeting of civilians and civilian properties in collective punishment contrary to international law, and other actions, including the targeting of medical and humanitarian personnel, that may amount to international crimes.” The resolution does not mention Hamas once.

For Israel, the vote was another heavy slap in the face. Because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hesitated before launching the Gaza campaign and accepted several ceasefire offers, officials were sure of the international community’s (relative) support for Operation Protective Edge. But statements reiterating Israel’s right to defend itself are apparently no guarantee of supportive votes at the UN.

“It’s a travesty of justice; it’s a travesty of fairness; it’s a travesty of common sense; it’s a travesty of truth,” Netanyahu said Thursday during a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Jerusalem. (Netanyahu also thanked him for “standing up for Israel’s right to defend itself.”)

‘If the final text had been agreeable to us, we would have voted yes. So we abstained’

Hammond, speaking late Wednesday evening, had actually said that the Human Rights Council’s resolution was “fundamentally unbalanced” and further complicated issues rather than helping to end the conflict. But then why did Britain abstain instead of opposing? “The UK could not support this resolution,” Hammond said, “but recognizing the strength of feeling about the loss of life and the desire by a large number of members of the Council to express that feeling in a resolution, the UK joined other EU nations in abstaining in the vote.” His statement almost sounds as if London made an independent decision, based on international pressure, to abstain.

“If the UK feels so strongly that the resolution is not fair, why did they not vote against it?” a senior Israeli official fumed. More than one government promised to oppose the draft and later instructed its ambassador to vote in favor, the official added. The foreign minister of the Philippines, for instance, personally promised a no-vote, but eventually the country voted yes, he said.

Israel expects more from the EU, observers in Jerusalem suggested. “I’m disillusioned and disappointed that they and others abstained, when they know full well what the real situation is,” said Alan Baker, a former legal adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. “It’s a two-faced political viewpoint, wholly based on economic and other interests, fully ignoring the truth and the facts.”

The EU states decided to vote as a bloc, as they often do. The union tried until the very last minute to soften the language of the resolution and to avoid the establishment of a fact-finding mission investigating Israel’s alleged crimes. “We tried to get a better text and to prevent the inquiry, and we failed with the latter. We did improve the text slightly. If the final text had been agreeable to us, we would have voted yes, so we abstained,” a European diplomat told The Times of Israel.

“The idea was to prevent a text that was much worse — you know how it is in the UN Human Rights Council,” a second European diplomat said, referring to the automatic majority with which Arab groups can push through pretty much anything they want.

The EU states tried to reason with the Palestinian delegation to the Geneva-based council to allow for a more balanced text — one that would not single Israel out for wrongdoing while ignoring Hamas — to no avail. “We have a situation with two warring parties, and one of them is not mentioned in the resolution. That’s shit,” admitted a European diplomat familiar with the negotiations over the draft resolution.

Ireland was actually inclined to vote in favor of the resolution but in the end the EU decided to vote as a bloc, after two changes were made to the initial draft. While the EU failed to prevent the creation of the commission of inquiry, it succeeded in “improving its mandate,” one source said.

Instead of examining only Israel’s misdeeds, as had been the case during the notorious Goldstone report, the new fact-finding mission has been tasked to “investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” That would include the alleged war crimes of Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups.

Secondly, European diplomats prided themselves in having succeeded in including a paragraph that “condemns all violence against civilians wherever it occurs, including the killing of two Israeli civilians as a result of rocket fire, and urges all parties concerned to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.” This cannot be taken for granted, EU diplomats said.

In an official explanation of the unanimous decision to abstain, the EU later explained that it “was not possible to reach” a different outcome. The “final draft text continues to be unbalanced, inaccurate, and prejudges the outcome of the investigation by making legal statements,” the EU’s statement read. “The draft resolution also fails to condemn explicitly the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israeli civilian areas as well as to recognize Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself.”

The union emphasized that the fact-finding mission would also look into violations committed by Hamas “and other militant groups,” and pledged to “continue to work toward a balanced outcome of the investigations.”

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, center, talks with British Foreign Affairs Minister Philip Hammond, right, prior to the start of the EU Foreign Affairs Council of Ministers held at the EU Council building in Brussels, on July 22, 2014. At left is Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders.  photo credit: AFP/Thierry Charlier)
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, center, with British Foreign Affairs Minister Philip Hammond, right, prior to the start of the EU Foreign Affairs Council of Ministers  on July 22, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Thierry Charlier)

Despite the good intentions, Israelis felt let down again by Brussels. After the EU foreign ministers on Tuesday came out with a dramatic statement that affirmed Israel’s “legitimate right to defend itself,” called on Hamas to cease attacking Israel and demanded all Gaza terrorist groups be disarmed, they hoped for a stronger stance on Israel’s behalf. Instead, Israel will take comfort in the staunch pro-Israel stance demonstrated, once again, by Canada and Australia. Neither country had a vote Wednesday in the Human Rights Council, but they made plain where they stand.

“Canada is frustrated and deeply disappointed that the UNHRC decided to completely ignore the abhorrent terrorist acts of Hamas,” Foreign Minister John Baird said. “This resolution turns a blind eye to the facts on the ground and that one party is responsible for the suffering of the Palestinian people, and that is the international terrorist group Hamas.”

There can be no moral equivalence between a terrorist organization and a liberal democratic state, and the council’s vote “undermines this body’s credibility,” he said.

Canberra said that the draft resolution was “unbalanced” and that Australia could not support it in its current form. “It makes no reference to Hamas’ causal role in this tragic situation,” the government said in a statement.

In this context it must be stressed that only the United States — one country out of 47 — voted against the resolution. Much has been said and written recently about the US administration’s lack of support for Israel, but once again the administration (not Congress) defied the entire international community to take a stand for its ally Israel.

US ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council Keith Harper. (courtesy)
US ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council Keith Harper. (courtesy)

“This resolution is not constructive, it is destructive,” Ambassador Keith Harper said before casting his vote on Wednesday. “The United States is deeply troubled by the resolution presented for adoption today… The resolution will cause real and lasting damage to this council and its ability to comprehensively address human rights in this region,” he continued. “We call on other states to underscore their opposition to any initiative of this council that takes a one-sided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is essential that the community of nations takes a balanced approach to these issues.”

His call was not heeded.

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