Analysis: Israel likely to lose big in Wednesday’s UNESCO vote

The result of the vote in this forum -- if there is a roll-call vote -- will likely make the previous UNESCO’s Executive Board look like a victory in comparison.

October 25, 2016 23:06
4 minute read.

UNESCO resolution on Temple Mount in Jerusalem

UNESCO resolution on Temple Mount in Jerusalem


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If you thought the results of the UNESCO Executive Board vote two weeks ago expunging a Jewish connection to the Temple Mount was bad, wait until you see the likely tally of a vote on a similar resolution in UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee on Wednesday.

The result of the vote in this forum -- if there is a roll-call vote -- will likely make the previous UNESCO’s Executive Board look like a victory in comparison. And Israel lost that vote 24 to six, with 26 abstentions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows this, and even before Wednesday’s vote issued a statement condemning the result.

“This is a continuation of the theater of the absurd,” he said on Tuesday. “Radical Islamic forces destroy mosques, churches and archeological sites, while Israel is the only state in the region that preserves them and allows freedom of worship for all religions. UNESCO's World Heritage Committee deserves to be condemned, not Israel.”

He issued this statement after being personally involved in trying to “improve Israel's position” on the vote either by softening the language, or getting more countries to abstain.

Barring any last minute changes, Wednesday’s resolution on keeping the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls on the list of “world heritage sites in danger” will take place in a forum that does not include many countries that Israel can count on for diplomatic support. The draft resolution, like the one that the UNESCO Executive Board passed on October 13, refers to the Temple Mount only by its Arabic names, though the Western Wall does appear in the text without parenthesis.

The only states that might possibly vote for Israel, and against the resolution, are two EU states -- Poland and Croatia -- although even that is unlikely. Neither the US, the Netherlands, Germany, Estonia, Britain or Lithuania – all counties that voted against the motion in the UNESCO Executive Board – are on this committee.

The two other EU states to vote on Wednesday are Finland and Portugal, which are expected to abstain. Neither are considered among Israel's stronger supporters inside the EU.

While in the previous vote, seven Sub-Saharan African countries abstained, and seven voted for, this time Israel has less African friends on the body. Zimbabwe and Angola are expected to vote for the resolution, while Tanzania is likely to abstain, and Burkina Faso may either abstain or vote for.

The committee includes three Arab countries who are leading the charge: Lebanon, Kuwait and Tunisia, and another four Muslim countries which are expected to vote for the resolution: Turkey, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are interesting cases because both countries have very good ties with Israel. Israel buys the majority of its oil from both states, Jerusalem has a very robust security relationship with Baku, and Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to Kazakhstan in December.

On paper, therefore, both countries would seem prime candidates to abstain, except that what is on paper does not account for all the geo-political considerations.

In order to prevent the bloc of Arab countries from voting for UN resolutions against it on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia, Azerbaijan is unlikely to do anything against their wishes on an Israeli-Palestinian resolution. And Kazakhstan is a key member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, unlikely to buck that organization’s group think on Israel in international forums.

Regarding Turkey, even with the recent reconciliation with Jerusalem, it is clear that Turkey will vote against Israel on any resolution having to do with capital, as will Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim state.

Regarding other Asian countries, one of the biggest diplomatic disappointments is Vietnam. That country, which which israel has a very robust economic relationship – with more than $2 billion in trade annually and a great deal of technological and agricultural cooperation – voted against Israel at the earlier UNESCO vote this month. Even though Israel made known its displeasure, Vietnam is expected to do the same on Wednesday as well.

The Philippines is also expected to vote for the resolution, as it generally casts votes against Israel. And if that was the case when it was closely aligned with the US, now that it is moving away from Washington – and closer to China – this is likely to be the case even more so.

South Korea, with whom Israel has a good relationship -- but not a relationship as strong as it has with other Asian countries like Japan or Singapore -- is expected to abstain, as it did in the earlier UNESCO vote this month.

Which leaves Latin America and the Caribbean. There, too, the countries on this committee are less well disposed to Israel than those on UNESCO’s larger executive board.

Cuba is certain to vote for the resolution, and Jamaica and Peru almost always vote against Israel in international forums.

Add that all up, and – if there is a vote – Israel could lose by as much as 14 to one, with six abstentions. Anything better than that could be declared some kind of victory by Israel. But that type of “victory” would be extremely relative.

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