Two events last week have illustrated, once again, how much Europe’s tin ear on Iran, and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to function, despite a rapidly changing geopolitical environment in the region.
The United Nations Security Council, in a 2-2 vote, with 11 abstentions, refused to support an extension of the arms embargo on Iran, which has been in place since 2007. Russia and China voted against, which came as no surprise. The only country that joined the United States, which has for some time supported the extension, was the Dominican Republic. But among the countries casting an abstention were Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Nine votes were needed to adopt an extension of the embargo.
The embargo not only prohibits the sale of conventional weapons to Iran but also prohibits Iran from transferring weapons to its proxies. It’s been in violation of this provision through its repeated delivery of rockets and other weaponry to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.
In their explanation of why they voted as they did, the Europeans expressed concern that an embargo extension would chase Tehran away from the discredited 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), ostensibly agreed to in order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The United States withdrew from the plan in 2018, citing its loose provisions and loopholes that would allow, after a period of 15 years, Iran to continue its nuclear weapons program. Effective, unannounced inspections of military sites, for example — a provision touted by supporters of the JCPOA — could not be carried out under the plan because of an arcane protocol of advance notice to the Iranians. Nor was Iran’s ballistic missile program, focused on being able to carry nuclear warheads as far as the heart of Europe, dismantled.
With cover provided by the JCPOA, Iran has set about to militarily and geopolitically meddle in the affairs of its neighbors. Its presence, or proxy connections in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and of course Lebanon are there for all to see. Lebanon has become part of “Iran Inc.” with its terrorist proxy Hezbollah having insinuated itself into the cabinet, and the terror group’s influence on the Lebanese army growing year-to-year. Not to mention its relationship with Hamas, in what amounts to a real time Shia-Sunni demonstration of the dictum, “the enemy of my enemy [Israel] is my friend.”
The final straw for those who cling to the JCPOA should have been Israel’s carrying off that trove of documents last year from a Tehran warehouse, that makes it abundantly clear that Iran has been developing nuclear weapons. What more could the Security Council want for evidence of Tehran’s intentions?
And as if that weren’t enough, the Gulf Cooperation Council, representing six countries with varying interests in the region, supported the extension of the embargo because of Iran’s constant threats to most of its member states.
So instead of sending a clear message to Iran that its malign behavior will no longer be tolerated, whether it be its nuclear ambitions, its support for terrorism or its hegemonist sweep across the region, by not voting to extend the arms embargo, Europe once again punted. Its lack of principle is not only disheartening, it is frightening.
Notwithstanding European expressions of “concern” over Iranian behavior, the real test — voting for the continuation of the embargo — has been failed miserably by governments whose modus operandi on this and many other vital issues is to do some can-kicking down the road of international diplomacy.
The other major event involving the region last week was the tremendously transformative announcement of the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Along with the Israeli-Egyptian and Israeli-Jordanian peace agreements which preceded it, the Abraham Accord is the third pillar of diplomatic achievements to bring stability to the region.
For decades the conventional thinking was that if an Israeli-Palestinian agreement could be achieved, peace between Israel and the rest of the Arab world would soon follow (see: the Fahd Plan, later called the Arab Peace Initiative, which promoted that approach to peacemaking). In fact, the 1979 agreement with Egypt, and the 1994 pact with Jordan did not wait for an agreement with the Palestinians, making the point that procrastination, where real strategic interests are at stake, makes no sense.
The Palestinians have walked away from numerous opportunities to negotiate a deal with Israel. Now, time has moved on, and they are looking at a train that is rapidly moving out of the station.
That approach has now been validated by the normalization agreement announced by President Donald Trump. Reaction among most European states was favorable. For months, though, the European Union and most of its member states were obsessed with warning Israel against an annexation plan in the West Bank that they were absolutely sure would happen. They might have spent that time more productively urging the Palestinian Authority to come to the negotiating table with Israel, but preferred instead to browbeat Israel, in the-sky-is-falling rhetoric.
Notwithstanding the encomiums that have flowed in from most European capitals, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn introduced a jarring assessment of the normalization agreement, in language reminding us that old speak on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still alive and well in Europe.
Said Asselborn of the diplomatic breakthrough, speaking critically of the UAE with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio: “…I think you can’t just let down your own brothers [Palestinians] in order to pursue economic interests and perhaps also have more security for yourself.”
Never have more hypocritical words been spoken. If Asselborn is right, what is Luxembourg doing in the European Union or as a member of NATO? Of course nation states pursue economic and security interests. Some also pursue policies aimed at bringing peace and stability to their neighborhoods, which is what the normalization agreement looks to accomplish.
Asselborn didn’t stop there; it gets worse: ”I am not an expert in theology, but I think that in all cultures and religions there is a well-established norm against theft. This is one of the basic norms of human co-existence….” He went on to say that “notwithstanding the Ten Commandments, seizing territory by force is a violation of Israel’s obligations under the U.N. Charter…and goes against a host of U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
Not only are Asselborn’s remarks an expression of sour grapes, but he has crossed a red line in diplo-speak. He is charging Israel, citing none other than the Ten Commandments, with stealing from the Palestinians, which takes it dangerously into blood libel territory. The old Yiddish expression — “vos iz oyfn lung iz oyfn tsung” — or what it is you breathe (really believe) is what you say,” — has never been more apt.
How can countries whose representatives hold such views, given the history of the region and the complexities of peacemaking, ever present themselves as honest brokers or even objective observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum?
The European abstentions in the Security Council vote on extending the arms embargo on Iran, and the Asselborn comments on the Israel-UAE normalization pact are stark reminders that in parts of Europe old attitudes and biases die hard. It’s not only imagination that’s lacking in Europe, it is an inability — or perhaps unwillingness — to act on principle. Standing up to bullies like Iran or recognizing that the diplomatic winds blowing out of the Gulf represent initiatives that might in fact lead to some kind of accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians, are the shape of things to come.
Stuck somewhere in the 20th century, Europe is late to the game, the one where tectonic shifts which present new opportunities to bring about positive changes in the world order, are taking place every day.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Times of Israel.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
Bolivia, the closest ally of the Venezuelan government in Latin America; Bolivia is also close with Iran; Bolivia has be named the chair of the United Nations Security Council in June.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, who decided to break relations with Israel in 2014 by saying the Israel is a “terrorist State,” announced the two main goals of his government in the next 30 days: Bolivia will be the President of the Security Council.
"Our priorities, conflict in the Middle East of 50 years of the occupation of Palestine, and non-proliferation of chemical and nuclear weapons,” Morales said.
Morales also said that his country “assumes with great responsibility the presidency of the U.N. Security Council and we will work for the resolution of international conflicts."
It is hard to believe that the debates promoted by Bolivia may end in positive results for any conflict.
During the U.N. General Assembly last September, Morales made it very clear what the meaning of peace and equity is for his government. Let´s review some of his thoughts, taken from his speech.
On the building of a wall: “The capitalist countries have built borders and walls everywhere—on water, on land and in the air. One out of every 100 people in the world is either a refugee or someone displaced by global warming, wars or imperialist invasions, as occurred in Syria, Iraq, Libya and other countries.”
Morales thinks that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a victim.
On Israel hatred: “The expansionist and warmongering policies of the State of Israel and its allies are major expressions of barbarism in the modern world. We strongly condemn Israel’s attacks on the civilian population of Palestine and demand that Israel cease hostilities immediately. We urge the United Nations to fully and immediately recognize the State of Palestine and take tangible action to stop the brutal genocide of the Palestinian people.”
Morales uses Iranian anti-Israeli language to attack the Jewish state and has never recognized the terror committed by Hezbollah and Hamas. All the same: Hamas is a great friend to Bolivia.
On justifying why there is terrorism: “It must be said that as long as wealth remains in the hands of a few, as long as poverty and exclusion exist, as long as racism and discrimination persist, as long as the identity and the sovereignty of peoples are not respected and their natural resources are pillaged for imperialist purposes, there will be grounds for violence and terrorism.”
Morales believes that “imperialism” is the root of terrorism. This is the way Iran and its proxies speak up, and Bolivia endorses, not only the language, but its votes in U.N. agencies.
Bolivia and Morales can´t accept that Venezuela is a dictatorship and is undergoing a humanitarian crisis with lack of medicines and food. Bolivia endorsed former Bolivian President Hugo Chavez and now Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, regardless of the massive protests in the streets of Venezuela, the tens of civilians killed and put in jail. Morales´ words are clear and rather unsustainable:
“Imperialist interests are creating a process of political destabilization in our region. We condemn foreign political intervention in our brother country of Venezuela. We salute the revolutionary fight of the people, undertaken with their leader, Commander Maduro. The new imperial conspiracy in the twenty-first century is no longer through coups d’état but rather through parliamentary or judicial takeovers. They may be legal and constitutional, but they are not legitimate, nor do they respect the decisions of the people. We do not need an imperial leader to control our people.”
The chairmanship of Bolivia in the Security Council will serve no purpose. A government supporting al-Assad and its brutal crimes in Syria; accusing Israel of genocide; backing the brutality against civilians in Venezuela should not be given the opportunity to spread such hatred. On the contrary, it should be exposed for defending all principles and regimes opposed to democracy and peace.
But this is the way it works in U.N. agencies. And so, rhetoric moves forward each day more and more, helping countries to fight hunger and terrorism is each day further and further.
Public opinion states that it is very difficult to understand why indifferent and evil interests have made the heinous killing of civilians in Syria possible.
There are harsh claims from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), media and some sensitive political leaders blaming the United Nations Security Council and specifically those countries with veto power. These claims were the center of debate some weeks ago during a Security Council session, which discussed sanctions against Syria for using chemical weapons, yet again, on its civilians.
There was an agreement to punish the Assad regime, but Russia vetoed that resolution. Latin American countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba have repeatedly backed Assad, and Latin America as a whole has not been clear in its stand before the Syrian tragedy.
This time, Uruguay reacted slightly differently from other Latin American countries. Permanent Representative of Uruguay Ambassador Elbio Rosselli started his speech saying “keep calm and carry on,” an English motto from World War II.
Rosselli continued to say, “We have to keep calm in order to be able to keep doing our job as Security Council, because the Syrian war must be kept in a multilateral frame and the main responsibility for it lies in this Council.”
Immediately, Rosselli criticized the Russian veto by saying: “the members of this Council should understand the damage of the use of the veto when we face such horrible situations. Veto in these times means lack of efficiency of the Council and makes our job unbalanced.”
But on the other hand, Rosselli said that unilateral use of force is considered by Uruguay as “illegitimate.” This was a clear criticism of the United States bombing of Syria after Assad’s chemical attack on his own people.
And here we have the main point: the use of the word “balance.”
The use of chemical weapons by Assad is a war crime and must be judged as such. To veto any sanction of those who engage in acts of barbarity, shows the lack of any efficiency of the Security Council and the U.N. itself.
The U.S. bombing was not as unilateral as it was mentioned in the Security Council. The U.S. previously reported that China and other countries, which also have veto power, knew that the bombing would take place.
Is it necessary to criticize just for the record or to show impartiality? Absolutely not. All members of the Security Council were fully aware that the United States had spoken with China, United Kingdom and France before attacking Syria. So, the so called “impartiality” was out of the queston.
But this political way to use “balance” is unfortunately used all the time in U.N. agencies and in the Security Council as well.
And Israel is one of those issues. What is the “balance” of devoting one full Security Council session a month speaking against Israel, and doing nothing to find a path to peace, but instead, spread rhetoric full of lies and hatred?
Well, there is no balance whatsoever. And Latin American countries instead of helping to end dubious and useless “balances” which go nowhere should be instrumental to open the eyes to African, European countries in order to help altogether to do a serious work at the U.N.
Another question without a possible serious answer: Why introduce a motion to sanction Syria when everybody in the whole world knew that Russia would veto and the genocide would continue endlessly?
History remembers and honors those who put an end to evil and barbarism. However, history also remembers indifference and silence.
World attention has recently been focused on the shameful passage of an anti-Israel resolution on settlements at the U.N. Security Council. Resolution 2334 contains a litany of criticism of Israel while absurdly striking a tone on incitement and terrorism that puts the onus on both sides of the conflict.
The resolution condemns all building beyond the 1949 Jordanian-Israeli armistice line—a line created after Jordan and other neighboring Arab states invaded the newly independent State of Israel in an attempt to annihilate it from existence. The armistice line (also known as the “Green Line”) stood in place until 1967, when Jordan and other Arab states again tried to destroy Israel, only to lose significant territory in the Six-Day War, when Israel liberated the eastern part of Jerusalem (including the Old City) and Judea and Samaria (which Jordan had by then re-named the “West Bank”), among other territories.
The section in Resolution 2334 that could prove to be the most problematic in the long term is a vaguely worded passage that calls on states to “distinguish” between their dealings with Israel and territories Israel gained during the Six-Day War. It’s not clear how states should “distinguish” their actions, but it is clear how the Palestinians and the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement will read this phrase—they will clearly try to use this as international cover for a boycott.
More on the Latest Anti-Israel U.N. Resolution
On the same day that the Security Council passed Resolution 2334, the General Assembly’s 5th Committee (the U.N.’s administrative and budget committee) decided, by its usually lop-sided anti-Israel majority, to fund a Human Rights Council (HRC) decision from March to create a database of companies doing business in areas beyond the Green Line. There is no ambiguity about what is happening with this decision—the U.N. is being willingly co-opted to become the secretariat of the BDS movement, creating a list of companies that activists can draw upon for divestment campaigns.
Israel submitted an amendment to this 5th Committee resolution to strip the funding from the mandate, but only Australia, Canada, Guatemala, Palau and the United States sided with Israel. The European Union (EU) gave a statement saying that EU member states would vote against the amendment as a bloc (even though the EU did not support the original HRC decision in March, albeit only by abstention), because it was important to stand by a principle of not letting policy discussion distract from the budgetary process, which is often run by consensus. Apparently that principle is more important than the principle that the United Nations should not be co-opted for anti-Semitic purposes.
The EU has been trying on this issue to have its cake and eat it too. Some EU members have laws against boycotts of Israel (and EU leaders pay lip service to opposing a boycott), yet the EU Commission put out guidelines by which member states should label all Israeli products from the disputed territories. While the guidelines do not explicitly call for a boycott of goods from the settlements, it seems only reasonable to deduce that it is meant to enable one.
The U.N.’s database will contain Israel companies based in the disputed territories, of course, but it will also likely target outside corporations that do business in the territories, multinational corporations that help bring security for Israeli citizens regardless of whether they reside within the Green Line or not. And it could very well be broadened to include Israeli businesses not even based in the territories, but those such as banks and stores that operate wherever their Israeli customers reside.
These recent U.N. actions may have created an overreach that provides an opportunity to move the U.N. in the right course. The Security Council resolution has created a furor in Congress and the incoming administration, which has led to threats of action against the U.N. Because of this, we’re now hearing the use of a word that we have not heard in a while at the U.N.—“reform.” If there is to be any reform at the U.N., one of the first priorities must be to reverse the barely concealed anti-Semitic efforts to boycott Israel that so many member states seem willing to either promote or at the very least tolerate.
Amid a fresh wave of terrorism in countries including the United States, Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel – though all but the latter have been responded to full-throatedly, owing to the base politics and limited focus that now afford singular international attention only to the arm of violent jihadism that brands itself ISIS – annual elections were held last week to fill upcoming vacancies on the body most responsible for global peace: the United Nations Security Council. Despite this responsibility, though – and power surpassing that of any other U.N. organ – the Council, itself frequently deadlocked by the conflicting interests of nations large and small, has become well-known for its inability to concretely address the world’s most pressing problems.
The Security Council, at any given time, has 15 members – five veto-wielding permanent members (the U.S., China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom), with the remainder elected by the General Assembly to serve staggered two-year terms.
The U.N. as a whole is comprised of 193 member states; a majority of these have had the opportunity – some repeatedly – to be members of the organization’s most “prestigious” body, while (as of 2017) 67 will never have had the chance. These include many smaller countries. At the same time, while Israel – whose policies and engagements receive unparalleled probing across the U.N. system – has never been elected to the Security Council, countries with a smaller population have: for example, Panama (five times), Denmark (four times), Norway (four times), Ireland (three times), Finland (twice), Uruguay (twice), Singapore (once), Paraguay (once), Luxembourg (once) and Malta (once).
Arab states in the Middle East have also been elected. Among them, Egypt has served five times, Syria three times, Algeria three times, Jordan three times, Iraq twice, Libya twice and Lebanon twice.
The current Council members whose term will continue through the end of 2017 are Egypt, Jordan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay.
Those whose term ends at the end of this year are Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain and Venezuela.
In last week’s ballot, the countries elected to serve on the Council in 2017 and 2018 are Ethiopia (for the African Group), Kazakhstan (for the Asia-Pacific Group), Bolivia (for the Latin American and Caribbean Group), and Sweden (for the Western European and Other Group), with the Netherlands and Italy – in a rarity over recent decades, after multiple inconclusive rounds of voting – agreeing to split a term by serving only one year each.
It is difficult to predict how the altered makeup of the Security Council may impact voting on resolutions on issues such as those related to Israel – and, by extension, whether such resolutions will be proposed at all – as this is impacted at any given moment by geopolitical circumstances, by the policy orientation of sitting governments and, of course, by the specific content of any prospective motion. In the nearly half-year remaining until outgoing Council members are replaced, much can change or remain the same in the Middle East. The rise of ISIS and warfare regionally, along with related surges of migration to and recurring terror attacks in Europe, have drawn a good deal of attention away from the Palestinian-Israeli rift. However, as Western countries pledge to eradicate ISIS, a reflexive instinct to also pacify Palestinians remains. France, of late very much in Islamist crosshairs, insisted on launching a recent international “initiative” to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but its initial summit meeting excluded the parties to conflict themselves; the Palestinians, who at one point received indication that Paris would simply recognize the “State of Palestine” if negotiations with Israel failed to promptly yield it, came to endorse the effort. Absent any Israeli buy-in, the French also on various occasions have expressed a desire to get the U.N. Security Council to impose a “framework” for the resolution of the dispute.
This, that is, assuming the U.S. will not deploy its Council veto. The Obama administration has long defended Israel at the U.N., and affirmed its continued view that the conflict should be settled through direct bilateral negotiations, but it has not clearly promised to oppose any Security Council resolution on Israel during the president’s final months in office, in the absence of progress toward peace on other tracks.
Nine affirmative votes, with no veto, are needed for a Security Council resolution to be adopted. If the U.S. were to allow a Council resolution on the conflict this year – whether outlining an anticipated final-status deal or, for example, merely reproving Israel for the presence of Jewish communities in Palestinian-claimed territory – it would all but surely pass with the four other permanent members, and at least six (if not all) non-permanent members, actively supporting it. While several current Council members have shown willingness in other U.N. bodies to abstain on some overtly anti-Israel resolutions, few, if any, would abstain on (let alone oppose) a motion seen to reflect a consensus that effectively includes the White House.
As to 2017, the Security Council landscape would seem to be improving a bit for Jerusalem: three countries that dependably vote against Israel (including the vociferous Venezuela) will be out, to be replaced by only two following the same voting pattern (though the incoming three countries that typically abstain on stridently anti-Israel resolutions include Sweden, which has regularly been outspoken in criticizing Israel’s government). Israel’s effort to return to a renaissance in ties with African states like incoming Council member (and moderate-voting) Ethiopia – as well as its recent, behind-the-scenes consultations even with those like Russia, Turkey and the Sunni Arab states – may also yield subtle fruit at the U.N., if only in averting or watering down the most damaging of prospective resolutions. At the same time, of course, factors like the U.S. presidential race and now the selection of a new British premier – though a number of friends of Israel are well-placed in both contexts – offer real wildcards. Additionally, it is yet to be seen how Brexit, and global anxieties and a sense of nationalist resurgences generally, will impact the European Union and its aspiration to a bloc-wide foreign policy.
Last Friday, the so-called international Quartet on Middle East peacemaking – which includes high-level representatives of the U.S., U.N., E.U. and Russia – resurfaced with a report that again sought to project an urgent need to end the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate. However, the report provoked a furious backlash from Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who yesterday called on the Security Council to reject the text, which notably included not only Israeli settlements but also Palestinian incitement to violence among the impediments that it perceives to peace.
More likely than heeding Abbas’s call, the Council can be expected over the coming weeks to shift focus to the process of selecting a U.N. secretary-general to replace Ban Ki-moon at the start of 2017, after ten years in office. Though formally elected by the General Assembly – which this year has been given the opportunity to interview declared candidates – the world body’s top official is traditionally chosen through intensive private haggling within the Security Council, specifically its permanent members. Like candidacies for Council membership, the role of secretary-general is (unofficially) seen as tied to region, doled out on a basis of rotation. It is now widely seen to be Eastern Europe’s turn to place someone at the helm.
While the array of candidates vary in their prior record on Middle East issues – secretaries-general are limited in what they can do to ameliorate anti-Israel bigotry at the U.N., and most have to different degrees disappointed in their efforts to at least try – Eastern European countries have, in the post-Communist era, often been characterized by considerable sympathy for the Jewish state. During a period when Eastern Europe may have some greater autonomy from centralized E.U. decision-making – or, in fact, a more influential part in shaping it – it would be a true contribution to peacemaking, and to the standing of the United Nations, if a senior-most U.N. official from that region were to model bold leadership in promoting fairness and responsibility on Israel at the world body itself.
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