German prevention of EU support for Israel echoed at the UN

The United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US (photo credit: REUTERS)
The United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After reports were published about German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s lobbying efforts urging Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, to not move Romania’s embassy to Jerusalem, questions about how far these efforts go started to arise.
One reason Merkel pressured Iohannis to not move Romania’s embassy to Jerusalem is that such a step would have reinforced the notion that the EU as an entity doesn’t have a single foreign policy, not only on Israel but also on other matters.
As we have seen on many occasions unrelated to Israel, High Representative of European External Action Service (EEAS) Federica Mogherini, has repeatedly issued statements of which other EU institutions were not unequivocally supportive. This added to the frustrations of many supporters of “Federal Europe” who keep seeking a united Europe, not merely as a single market but as a single block on all affairs.
French President Emmanuel Macron has equally strengthened his commitment to the European Union when he stated that a single army should be established to protect the EU against Russia, China and the US. Obviously, Macron’s move is a reaction to Trump’s policies. The US is withdrawing support from the Paris agreement, the Iran deal, trade agreements and also pressures the European member states to comply with their part in the NATO budget. Understandably, this made EU elites rush toward a more united EU in the hope to forestall the new challenges imposed by Trump.
While the Brexit deal is also weakening the EU’s position in the eyes of world powers, it is more crucial than ever for the EU to strengthen the illusion of a united European front.
One of the ways to strengthen this illusion is to get rid of a divided vote at the UN General Assembly. This division was clearly seen at the anti-Trump Jerusalem resolution in December 2017. Although Federica Mogherini has been clear on EU’s position regarding the embassy move, six EU states (the V4 states + Romania + Latvia) abstained at the anti-Trump Jerusalem resolution, defying EU position.
Furthermore, more recently, at the resolution to approve Palestine as chair of the largest UN group dealing with development (G77), as many as nine EU states (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Austria and Croatia) abstained. That’s a third of EU member states.
Surprisingly, Romania, as one of the six EU states that have abstained at ‘the anti-Trump Jerusalem’ resolution, did not abstain at ’the Palestine as chair’ resolution. Romania broke, unexpectedly, its short tradition of voting behavior in line with the V4 states and Latvia.
In fact, Romania was one of the EU states seriously considering the embassy move to Jerusalem. Hence, the sudden 180º turn made alarm bells ring.
All became clear when reports were published of Merkel’s lobbying efforts to stop the Romanian embassy move. The Romanian support for the resolution installing Palestine, a non-state, as chair of the largest UN group, is hardly a coincidence. And last week things became even clearer. Nine biased resolutions were adopted against Israel. Eight received full support from all EU states. Not even one of the 28 states (soon to be 27) abstained.
In contrast, only one resolution, stating that Israel is committing human rights violations in the territories, received abstentions from nearly 80 countries including all EU states. Even Sweden and Luxembourg, which never fail to vote in favor of anti-Israel resolutions, suddenly voted along with all the rest of EU states and abstained. As a matter of principle, Sweden and Luxembourg address their complaints against Israel under the highly discriminatory Item 7 at the UN Human Rights Council, which makes an abstention at the General Assembly even more unusual. Suddenly, both countries are not convinced anymore that Israel is committing human rights violations.
Nine resolutions were adopted against the state of Israel in one single day while no EU state stood up against any of the biased resolutions. This isn’t new. The abstentions never really counted as support even if they were meant to be a token of support. In fact, the EU states supporting Israel by abstentions did so as they could not afford to deviate too much from Germany’s and EU’s policies. In other words, the abstentions seemed to be the perfect middle way. Regrettably, according to the nine biased resolutions of last week, this middle way practice seems to be over. All EU states voted in line with Germany’s stance. No one deviated from it, not by abstaining and not by no-show.
There is one plausible explanation for the latest EU voting behavior: Brexit, Poland’s PiS and Hungary’s Fidesz governments are all subjects that divide the EU. The elites are trying to tackle them and overcome those issues. On the matter of foreign policy, EU member states have many disagreements on a number of subjects, but Germany has decided that Israel will no longer be one of them. In other words, there will be no support for Israel coming from any EU state on the international stage unless Germany says otherwise. The latest EU vote at the UN made this abundantly clear.
The author is the director of Golden Gate public affairs & consultancy, and works with European Union institutions in Brussels.