Analysis: Vote shows Israel making little headway at United Nations

There has not been that significant a change inside the 193-member organization.

December 22, 2017 02:01
3 minute read.
Analysis: Vote shows Israel making little headway at United Nations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shown on a large screen as he addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US, September 19, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy doctrine is based on a simple idea: Israel’s position in international organizations will improve as its bilateral relations with individual countries gets better.

This is something that he has repeatedly said will take a long time, but something that he believes is beginning to take place. Or, as he said just prior to Thursday’s UN vote where Israel and the US took a beating, “Attitudes toward Israel by many countries in the world, on all continents, are changing outside the walls of the UN, and in the end this will trickle down inside the walls of the UN building – the House of Lies.”

Thursday’s vote shows that this process might take longer than the decade he sanguinely predicts.

For instance, at a May meeting of the 58-member UNESCO Executive Board, only 38% of the states supported a resolution that watered down Israel’s connection to Jerusalem. By comparison, 66% of the countries in the General Assembly voted for Thursday’s resolution.

True, the 128 votes that the Palestinians were able to garner for this measure fell short of the 150 they hoped to round up, but this was still a stinging setback for Israel and the US, especially since President Donald Trump and Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley threatened that the US would retaliate by cutting aid to countries voting for the measure.

Netanyahu, after the vote, said that he appreciates “the fact that a growing number of countries refused to participate in this theater of the absurd.” But, when comparing this vote with the 2012 vote that granted the Palestinians nonmember observer status in the UN and the 2015 vote that gave them the right to fly their flag at the world body, there has not been that significant a change inside the 193-member organization.

For instance, this time 128 countries voted against Israel, compared to 138 in 2012, and 119 in 2015. This time 38 countries abstained, while 41 abstained in 2012, and 45 abstained in 2015.

The biggest difference was in those countries that did not participate, with 21 this time around, the same as in 2015, compared to only five in 2012.
128 countries defy Trump, vote for UN resolution slamming his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, December 21, 2017 (Reuters)

But overall the change has not been that marked.

Furthermore, compared to the 2012 vote, Israel lost ground in terms of the Western democracies.

Though diplomatic efforts ensured that the 28 EU countries would not vote as one against Israel this time – five abstained and Lithuania did not show up – in 2012 the number of EU countries that abstained stood at 12, with one, the Czech Republic, even voting for Israel. Israel lost ground in the EU this time.

In addition, both Australia and Canada, which voted against the flag initiative in 2015, abstained this time. On the statehood issue in 2012, Canada voted against and Australia abstained.

Among the biggest disappointments inside Europe in Thursday’s vote were Germany, which in the past generally abstained on these types of measures, and Greece and Cyprus, with which Netanyahu has forged a close alliance. Even that alliance, built largely on a basis of shared economic interest regarding the natural gas finds off the coast, was not enough to get those countries to abstain on a vote that Israel deemed significant.

On the positive side of the ledger, 15 African states abstained, and one, Togo, voted for Israel, showing that inroads on the continent are paying off to a certain degree. Countries such as Kenya and Zambia did not show up, and states such as Cameroon, Rwanda, Malawi and Equatorial Guinea abstained.

Israel also gained ground in Latin America, with all the countries Netanyahu visited in September abstaining – Argentina, Colombia and Mexico, along with a number of others, such as Panama and Paraguay.

The Caribbean countries, once states that reflexively voted against Israel, are increasingly abstaining, as was the case on Thursday with countries such as the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

Also of note in Thursday’s vote, and perhaps a sign that their heart was not in the vote, with the exception of Syria and Yemen, no other Arab countries took the podium to slam Israel, a role that was instead played by countries such as Turkey, Venezuela, Pakistan, Indonesia, Cuba, Iran, Malaysia and North Korea.

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