The Two Sides to the Arab Vote on the UN’s Jerusalem Resolution
JNS.org – When 128 countries voted on December 21 in favor of a non-binding United Nations General Assembly resolution calling on the US to withdraw its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, nobody in Israel was surprised. Before the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the UN “a house of lies,” and said that Israel “rejects the resolution, even before it is passed.”
On the surface, the votes of some Arab states supporting the resolution were also not surprising. But taking into account Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s desire to get closer to the US — and his seemingly softening stance toward Israel — why did the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, vote in favor?
Dr. Yoel Guzansky, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said that the Saudis “have other priorities, and while the Palestinians are not of major interest, [the Saudis] do pay lip service to the Palestinian cause and the Jerusalem issue.”
Yet even though the Saudis backed the resolution, they didn’t make a lot of noise over it. The same behavior was true for the rest of the member nations of the Saudi-based Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. This could indicate Crown Prince Salman’s “desire to get closer to US President Donald Trump,” Guzansky told JNS.
At least some of the GCC countries appear to view the US announcement on Jerusalem as nothing more than a side issue. Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid al-Khalifa tweeted: “It’s not helpful to pick a fight with the US over side issues while we together fight the clear and present danger of The Theo-Fascist Islamic republic.”
For many of the Gulf states, it’s increasingly clear that Iran — not the Palestinians, nor Jerusalem — is the main regional issue.
Ron Prosor, Israel’s former ambassador to the UN — and current head of the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center — characterized the Arab bloc’s UN vote as having two sides.
“On the one hand,” he told JNS, “Muslim countries will naturally support the Palestinians. But suddenly, after many years, Israel and the Saudis have coinciding interests, primarily because both countries see Iran as a major threat. And while the Palestinian issue is important to the Saudis, it is less important than the threat to their regime and their own survivability, as they confront Iran, radical Islam and the Shiite-Sunni divide.”
For Prosor, Arab support for the Jerusalem resolution is less concerning than the hypocrisy of European countries that supported the measure.
“[The Europeans] say they are really worried over the announcement on Jerusalem, since it will create instability. [The Europeans decided] to go to the General Assembly (GA). When the Russians vetoed everything regarding Syria, did the French or the British go to the GA?” Prosor asked. Answering his own rhetorical question, he said, “The answer is absolutely not.”
“And until 1967,” the former envoy continued, “anyone could visit eastern Jerusalem, except for Jews. The Europeans supported that wholeheartedly.”
Prosor pointed out that “when Trump made the decision, there was an understanding that this was supposed to be one part of the puzzle, which would have included a regional solution. But [Mahmoud Abbas’] remarks, and the Palestinians’ emotional reaction, effectively put an end to the larger peace plan [that] the Trump administration was preparing.”
Prosor added: “The change in the status quo of the status of Jerusalem was made not by Trump, but by the Obama administration. President [Barack] Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry refused to veto UN Security Council Resolution 2334 [in December 2016], which called any Israeli presence in eastern Jerusalem a ‘flagrant violation under international law.’”
Despite Europe’s broad support for last week’s Jerusalem resolution, the Eastern European countries of Hungary, Croatia, Latvia, Romania and the Czech Republic broke with the continent’s consensus on the issue, by abstaining from the vote.
Israel has long believed that the UN is often hijacked by an automatic majority that is obsessed with the Jewish state, and consistently passes biased resolutions against it.
In 2017 alone, the General Assembly — including major human rights abusers such as Iran, Syria and North Korea — has adopted 21 resolutions against Israel, compared to six resolutions on the rest of the world, combined.
CNN’s Jake Tapper recently criticized countries for their hypocritical stance on Israel.
“Is Israel truly deserving of 86 percent of the world’s condemnation, or possibly is something else afoot at the United Nations?” Tapper said on his world news program, “The Lead.”
Tapper also showed a statistic from UN Watch, an organization that monitors bias at the world body, pointing out that between 2012 and 2015, the UN adopted 97 resolutions specifically criticizing an individual country — and that Israel was the target of 83 of them.
Israel now has a stalwart supporter at the UN in the form of US Ambassador Nikki Haley. And while many UN members condemn Israel in public, many of those same nations — even those without official diplomatic relations with Israel — maintain behind-the-scenes ties with the Israeli UN Mission.
While 128 countries supported last week’s Jerusalem resolution — with nine rejecting it and 35 abstaining, there are also 21 additional General Assembly members to account for — the countries who did not support the measure because they were absent from the vote.
“That’s a strong statement,” said Prosor.