Israel's global standing not so bleak after all

True, Israel’s position in the international arena is difficult – but it has always been so.

US President Barack Obama (L) and UK Prime Minister David Cameron. (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama (L) and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“The world is against us” is a theme that will be heard time and time again throughout this election campaign.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Right will play on this theme as proof as to why the country needs somebody like Netanyahu to eloquently and articulately stand up to the world and protect Israel’s interests.
And Labor head Isaac Herzog and Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni will play on this theme as proof as to why Netanyahu needs to be ousted, arguing that it is precisely because of Netanyahu and his policies that Israel’s standing in the world has never been worse.
But then along comes Tuesday’s Palestinian failure in the United Nations Security Council to gain the support of nine states needed to pass a resolution dictating a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines – without any consideration of Israel’s genuine security concerns – and a much more nuanced picture of Israel’s position in the world emerges.
True, Israel’s position in the international arena is difficult – but it has always been so.
But the country is not without its friends, supporters and allies.
First and foremost, of course, is Washington, even under US President Barack Obama, whose relationship with Netanyahu leaves much to be desired.
Obama could have done in the Security Council what he did with immigration reform in November, and Cuba in December, and say “I don’t give a hoot what the Republicans say; these are matters in my purview that I will act on as I see fit.”
He didn’t. He didn’t because the wording of the resolution put forward by the Palestinians was, as the US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said, just too unbalanced. Don’t confuse disagreements over settlements with a lack of concern for Israel’s security, and this resolution did not take Israel’s security concerns into account at all.
Despite vacuous words, spoken just a few weeks ago by Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, that the US was seriously considering not vetoing this resolution, Washington made it clear that it would use its veto if needed – and, more than that, it actively lobbied other countries on the council to not vote for the resolution.
Washington’s intervention is believed to have had an important impact on South Korea’s decision to abstain.
One lesson from the vote: Ties with the US are not as bad as they are often perceived.
Another lesson, though one no one really needs: These ties are critically important.
Another lesson is that all is not bleak for Israel in Europe. True, France and Luxembourg voted for the resolution (we’ll return to France shortly), but the United Kingdom and Lithuania abstained.
Granted, many in Israel would have liked to see Britain vote with its English-speaking American and Australian allies against the proposal (Australia proved once again that it is a close friend), but abstaining – rather than voting with the Palestinians as France did – deprived the Palestinians of their nine votes.
If one reads only The Guardian, watches and listens only to the BBC and pays attention only to stories about British divestment efforts, one might have expected London to have followed Paris’s lead. But that would be to give short shrift to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who surprised many with his friendship during his visit to Israel in early 2014, and whom one Israeli diplomat described as someone who understands and can sympathize with Israel’s predicament.
Lithuania’s abstention is yet another sign of how all of the EU cannot be painted with the same brush. Lithuania is one of the former Soviet bloc countries that joined the EU after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and whose feelings toward Israel are significantly different – and considerably more favorable – than some of “Old Europe,” such as Sweden, Ireland, Spain and Luxembourg.
The EU has four countries on the Security Council (27 percent of the council, though the union represents only 7% of the world’s population), and those countries split in Tuesday’s vote, with two countries voting for the Palestinians and two abstaining. The lesson there is that there is not a united Europe, and that the chances of Europe consolidating one position on the Middle East is slim indeed.
Regarding France, Paris – once again – surprised and disappointed. The French were working on their own proposal to take to the Security Council, one that had more moderate language than the Palestinian resolution and included language making it clear that any agreement had to be agreed upon by Israel, and could not be completely unilateral.
There were not insignificant efforts to merge the two resolutions, efforts that would have necessitated Palestinian compromises – not with Israel but with the French – which the Palestinians were not willing to make.
So when the Palestinians threw the French proposal out the window and decided to put forward their own resolution, the French – instead of voting against it – relented.
There are numerous explanations for this. One, which is kind to the French, posits that they knew the resolution would not garner the nine necessary votes, and so they could vote with the Palestinians, thereby winning points in the Arab world, knowing that the resolution was not going anywhere anyhow.
Indeed, because of the French policy regarding Syria, Libya, Islamic State – even President François Hollande’s degree of understanding for Israel during the summer’s Gaza operation – Paris very likely saw this vote as an inexpensive way to win back some points in the Arab world.
It is also clear that Paris will not pay any significant price for this vote. Although Jerusalem will call in France’s ambassador on Friday to protest, this vote will not impact on ties. Besides, whereas Paris played a negative role from Israel’s perspective on this issue, it played – and is expected to continue to play – a positive role regarding the world powers’ negotiations with Iran.
Another important lesson is that Israel has friends and support in Africa. Two of the three African countries on the council – Rwanda and Nigeria – abstained, while only Chad, an implacable foe of Israel with whom it does not even have diplomatic relations, voted against.
Rwanda’s vote came as no surprise, as that country has emerged as one of Israel’s strongest – if not its strongest – friend in Africa. It stayed away, along with the US, Canada and Australia, from the Israel-bashing meeting last month of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Convention.
Israel has established strong ties with Nigeria, whose president, Goodluck Jonathan, is a frequent visitor to Israel, both in a public and private capacity. With its fight against Boko Haram, Nigeria understands well Israel’s struggle against terrorism, and the two countries have good security cooperation.
Nigeria was also on the UN Security Council in 2011, when the Palestinians dropped their bid for full UN member state status when they could not muster the nine votes that would recommend such a move to the General Assembly. Another African country, Gabon, was on the council at the time, and its refusal to back the Palestinian move helped sink it.
Since Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman took over the ministry in 2009, Israel has paid more attention to Africa, with Liberman visiting there on two different occasions. That attention is paying off, and Israel’s stock in Africa is on the rise.
The same cannot be said of its stock in South America, where the two Latin American countries on the council – Argentina and Chile – voted against Israel. Though Liberman also visited South America, and Israel is also paying more attention to that continent, it is not gaining the same dividends there as it is in Africa.
Chile is an interesting case, because while it does have good and friendly relations with Israel, there is a large, influential Palestinian community there that has a strong impact on the government’s policies in the Middle East.
The other two countries that voted for the resolution are Russia and China, and their votes should also be a lesson for Israel.
Regardless of the scope of ties with those two countries – and Israel has a constructive, open relationship with Russia, and swiftly growing economic ties with China – they are going to support the Arab position in international forums.
Russia will do so for a couple of reasons: Both to stick its finger in America’s eye wherever it can, and to do what it can to strengthen its standing in the Arab world. Likewise, for China these types of votes also serve as a counterweight to US influence in the international arena, as well as a way it can bolster its standing in the Arab world, even as its business ties with Israel are booming.