The Palestinians’ non-resolution, the blacklist and how Jerusalem emerged

Diplomatic Affairs: It was a dramatic week for Israel at the UN, and we assess the good, the bad and the ugly.

PA PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas holds a document while speaking during a Security Council meeting at the United Nations in New York, on Tuesday. (photo credit: SHANNON STAPLETON / REUTERS)
PA PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas holds a document while speaking during a Security Council meeting at the United Nations in New York, on Tuesday.
This was a week of ups and downs for Israel at the United Nations and its various institutions, with victory, disappointment and diplomatic squabbles. Israel’s diplomats in New York, Geneva, Brussels, Jerusalem and around the world worked around the clock to keep up with the drama.
The Palestinians didn’t submit a resolution, via surrogates, against Israel to the UN Security Council, but the UN Human Rights Council dropped a bomb on Wednesday with its blacklist of companies operating in settlements, and all along, the spat with Belgium over its conduct in the UNSC continued.
Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly for Israel in the UN this week.
The good:
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas got a lot of attention for his speech at the UN Security Council, in which he compared the Palestinian state depicted in the Trump peace plan to Swiss cheese and said the plan strengthens “apartheid,” and for his subsequent statement to the press with former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
But things could have gone exponentially worse if there had been an actual UNSC resolution going up for a vote.
The Palestinians seemed to have assumed that they would have a repeat of December 2017, when the US vetoed their resolution against American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. All 14 other members of the Security Council voted in favor of the Palestinian resolution.
But the Palestinians made a strategic error last week when they began circulating a draft resolution, meant to be submitted by UNSC members Indonesia and Tunisia, in having it criticize the US specifically for proposing a peace plan that they said breaches international law.
They immediately lost support of most of the European Union states in the Security Council, as well as the UK and Dominican Republic, which, together with the US, meant that there was not enough support to even hold a vote at all.
Meanwhile, senior adviser to the US president, Jared Kushner, presented the peace plan to the Security Council last week. Avi Berkowitz, US assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations, stayed in New York to try to negotiate the resolution away, rather than have the US use its veto against all the other members of the Security Council yet again.
The Palestinians amended their resolution slightly to take out the specific mention of the US, instead saying that the plan only “departs from the internationally endorsed terms of reference and parameters for the achievement of a just, comprehensive and lasting solution to this conflict, as enshrined in the relevant United Nations resolutions.” That view was repeated in many of the speeches given in the Security Council on Tuesday. They also added a line condemning violence, which is what Europeans in the UN tend to view as adding sufficient balance in resolutions against Israel.
But it was too little, too late. The US started giving their own notes on what should be changed, and the Palestinians refused to negotiate, since they’re boycotting the US. Berkowitz and US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft continued their meetings with other countries’ representatives in the UN. Israeli diplomats in New York, Jerusalem and Security Council member states’ capitals, as well as Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who was meeting his counterpart in Berlin, also lobbied against the resolution, though an Israeli diplomatic source said the result was mostly due to heavy American involvement.
The European Union states in the Security Council – France, Germany, Estonia and Belgium – were stuck between a pro-Palestinian resolution they would have normally supported, and not wanting to anger the US. And while the amended draft checked many of the boxes they needed, sticking to traditional pro-Palestinian texts and rehashing past resolutions, it did not feature an immediate call to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The Europeans wanted a resolution that would give some hope and show a step toward peacemaking, but they didn’t have that, so they didn’t give the Palestinians clear answers on their voting plans.
Abbas had hoped to be able to make the point that only the US and Israel back the Trump plan, but if there was no major support for the resolution against it, he wouldn’t be able to say that. The Palestinians, who didn’t want an embarrassing loss while Abbas was in Turtle Bay, never officially submitted the resolution via Tunisia and Indonesia in the end.
Much attention was paid to Abbas’s harsh remarks, but to some extent the PA president did appear chastened. He did not give a passionate, table-banger of a speech. Unlike in his address to the Arab League on February 1, Abbas did not say he would cut ties with the US and Israel, instead talking about Americans and Israelis who reject the peace plan. He also made sure to at least pay lip service to being against violence.
Israel and the US both viewed the outcome as a victory.
“Abbas’s plan at the UN was blocked,” Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon told The Jerusalem Post in the aftermath of the Security Council meeting. “He thought he’d come as the winner and embarrass the US and Israel, and the message he got from Security Council members is that he has to go back to negotiations.
“We were in contact with many countries, and we told them that they should not go blindly after Abbas’s will,” Danon added.
Though most of the speakers at Tuesday’s Security Council meeting rejected the US plan, a senior Trump administration official expressed optimism that “countries are keeping an open mind with regard to our ‘Vision for Peace,’ and are willing to have an honest and open discussion on it as a possible basis to restart negotiations for a realistic two-state solution.”
The paradigm has shifted, the American source said, and the council did “not reflexively fall back on the calcified Palestinian position, which has only allowed the failed status quo to continue.”
Still, an Israeli diplomatic source cautioned that the victory is not complete. The Palestinians could bring the resolution back to the Security Council or take it to the General Assembly, where there is an automatic majority against Israel.
The bad:
A day after the victory in the Security Council, Israel had a loss in the UN Human Rights Council – if you can call it a loss when you’re completely excluded from the process.
On Wednesday afternoon, Washington let Jerusalem know that the UNHRC’s blacklist of companies that do business with the settlements was on the way. An hour later, the list was posted online. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the professional arm of the UNHRC, did not give Israel any warning or let Israel see the list in advance. In fact, the human rights commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, has refused to meet with any Israeli officials in the past year.
The list is a somewhat random assortment of companies – apparently based on lists compiled by NGOs critical of Israel – that have operations in the West Bank. The list was not compiled with even a modicum of transparency from the OHCHR and it does not even meet the standards in its own introduction. For example, at no point does the document say it includes companies that provide food to settlers, and yet Angel Bakery, Café Café coffee shops, and the Rami Levy supermarket chain – which are also accessible to Palestinians – are on the list.
The document also doesn’t state what is blatantly obvious – that this is not a boycott of the West Bank but a boycott of Jews. Companies that work with Arabs get off scot-free. It also pays no mind to the thousands of Palestinians who work for Israeli companies in the West Bank and could be hurt by moves toward a boycott.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to save face by saying the list is not a big deal, because the UNHRC is a powerless and irrelevant body and Israel is not afraid of it.
He’s not wrong.
UNHRC is so structurally and institutionally biased against Israel that countries are beginning to turn against it. It has a permanent agenda item against Israel and has more resolutions against Israel than anyone else in the world, while sheltering tyrants and human rights violators from China to Saudi Arabia to Venezuela. Last year, EU states along with Japan and Brazil had enough, and voted against the agenda item against Israel, citing its “imbalance.” The US is no longer a member of the UNHRC because of its bias.
Even if one accepts the formulation that the West Bank is “Occupied Palestinian Territory” – though there was never a Palestinian state that could be occupied – there is no law against doing business with occupied territories.
The companies, as Israel seeks to emphasize, are doing nothing wrong by having a business presence in Judea and Samaria. But they could be doing something wrong by pulling out of Israel due to the list, Netanyahu pointed out, referring to the 28 US states that have anti-boycott laws, such that those companies could incur penalties.
But what the list can do is empower non-state actors against Israel – such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and organizations like Amnesty International or leading EU think thank the European Council for Foreign Relations – that have called for similar boycotts and compiled their own blacklists. Companies that have already wavered on the issue of settlements, like Airbnb, which briefly halted operations with Jews in Judea and Samaria while continuing to work with Arabs, could lose their nerve.
The ugly:
If the UNHRC isn’t ugly enough, there’s a continuing row going on between Israel and Belgium, which is probably tied with Ireland for the EU country least friendly to Israel.
At the core of the matter is Belgium’s temporary presidency over the UN Security Council, which Jerusalem feels it has been abusing to attack Israel.
Belgium, which apologized only in 2019 for its policy of kidnapping mixed-race children in Burundi and Congo, claims the welfare of children is its priority. So it invited Brad Parker – an official from Defense for Children International Palestine, an organization whose leadership has documented ties with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – to address the Security Council. Parker also has a history of anti-Israel activism, some of which was probed by the City University of New York, where he is a professor.
Israel has demanded that Belgium rescind Parker’s invitation, but is not very optimistic it will happen.
“We hope that Belgium will change its mind,” Ambassador to Belgium Emmanuel Nahshon said. “We are extremely disappointed that Belgium, which professes to care about children in conflict zones, didn’t think it appropriate to invite reps of Israeli children living under Hamas rockets for the past 15 years. We hope that reason will prevail.”
Belgium also didn’t invite anyone to talk about how Palestinians use children as human shields and as participants in violent riots.
And while this has nothing to do with the UN, Israel is also angry at the Belgian government for doing nothing to stop the repeated use of antisemitic floats in its annual parade in Aalst, set for February 23 this year.
The country responsible for “the horror, the horror” in the Congo, as Joseph Conrad put it in Heart of Darkness, which last year apologized for only a small part of the atrocities it committed there, and only because the UN demanded it do so, thinks it’s in a position to lecture Israel.
So the Foreign Ministry summoned Belgium’s Deputy Ambassador to Israel Pascal Buffin, Brussels summoned Nahshon, and this week Israel summoned Buffin again. Belgium is particularly upset with Nahshon’s use of Twitter to amplify Israel’s complaints, though he is far from the only ambassador to deftly use social media; it’s common enough that there is the portmanteau “twiplomacy.”
But Belgium is not a major player on the world scene, so Israel is not particularly concerned about the damage done by the mutual reprimands. The point here is more to send a message to the nations of the world that they cannot use the Security Council to pile abuse on Israel.
As has been the case since November 29, 1947, when the UN approved the partition plan leading to Israel’s establishment, the United Nations is not a particularly friendly forum for Israel. At least this week there was some good news along with all the bad.•