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What does the UN vote on Hamas mean to us?

  • Paula
In the Middle East, everyone declares victory regardless of the results. So, it’s no surprise that the recent United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution against Hamas was praised by both Jerusalem and Hamas. If it had passed, it would have condemned the Gaza-based movement for the first time ever in the world body.
by PAULA SLIER | Dec 13, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “principled stand” of the “sweeping majority”. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zahri tweeted that “the failure of the American venture at the UN represents a slap to the US administration and confirmation of the legitimacy of the resistance”.

Both are correct. For Hamas, it was a success because the resolution failed. For Israel, it was the first time a resolution like this condemning the Palestinian group nearly passed in the assembly.

The resolution was called “Activities of Hamas and Other Militant Groups in Gaza” and, among other things, condemned the militant group “for repeatedly firing rockets into Israel and inciting violence, thereby putting civilians at risk”. It also denounced the movement’s construction of terror tunnels and incendiary kites.

But before members could vote, Kuwait put forward a preliminary motion requiring a two-thirds majority for the American-sponsored resolution to succeed. Observers have criticised the move as underhanded. What it did effectively was ensure the failure of the resolution.

Had only a simple majority been required – as has been the norm for past votes – the resolution would have passed. Eighty seven countries voted in favour of it, 57 against, and 36 abstained.

What Israel needs to ask herself now is why so many states supported its position against Hamas, but still voted for the two-thirds majority needed to pass the resolution.

It suggests that the message they were imparting to Jerusalem is, “We can support you, but only if the resolution is meaningless.” These countries want to condemn Hamas, but at the same time, they empathise with the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. Their message to Israel is, “Yes, we support you against Hamas’ aggression, but the violence is also happening in a context.” In other words, Israel is not blameless.

It’s a far cry from how Arab countries voted. It should come as no surprise that they all supported the two-thirds motion, and voted in support of Hamas, as did South Africa.

This, in spite of a concerted effort by the Trump administration to ensure they wouldn’t. Even those Arab countries who have warmed up to Israel recently, such as Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Oman, voted against denouncing Hamas on the world stage. The same was true for Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan.

In recent weeks, Netanyahu has made a lot of noise about Jerusalem’s warming ties with Arab countries, but he would do well to remember that when it comes to taking a public stance against the Palestinians – even if it means only pointing fingers at Hamas – none are prepared to do so.

Most Arab populations are sympathetic towards the Palestinian struggle, and so naturally support Hamas in its fight against what they perceive as an Israeli occupation of Gaza.

Even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who heads the rival Palestinian faction, Fatah, hailed the resolution result. He said that under no circumstances would he “allow for the condemnation of the Palestinian national struggle”.

For more than a decade, his Ramallah-headquartered government has clashed with Hamas, but, still, when it comes to Palestinian unity, they stand together on the international stage.

However, votes at the UN are not always reflective of what Arab governments really think, and what is going on behind the scenes. One should be careful not to put the whole Arab world into one basket. A case in point is Cairo.

Whenever I report from the Egyptian street, I interview ordinary people who inevitably tell me that they dislike Israel and do not support the 1979 peace treaty between the countries. This is far from the government’s position, but it still needs to reflect public sentiment in its international positions.

States like Qatar, which are close to Hamas, are in conflict with countries like Saudi Arabia with whom the US and Israel have a good relationship. Saudi Arabia has accused Qatar of supporting terrorism.

So, while Riyadh voted against the anti-Hamas resolution, it faces the quandary of not backing Hamas too closely because that would mean it endorses similar movements in its own backyard. Yet, in spite of the contradictions, in international arenas, Arab countries inevitably vote as a block, especially when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians.

Russia is another case in point. It voted in favour of the two-thirds requirement, and then later voted against the resolution. Moscow and Jerusalem have strong bilateral and diplomatic relations and yet whenever there is a vote at the UN, Russia invariably stands with the Arab world. It’s politics after all.

As for Africa, only seven of the continent’s 54 countries – Rwanda, South Sudan, Eritrea, Malawi, Liberia, Lesotho, and Cabo Verde – voted with Israel and the US in support of the resolution. Ten abstained, another 10 did not vote, and 28 voted against the measure.

What is ironic is that while Nigeria and Zambia were voting against the resolution, representatives from their respective countries were in Israel learning how to improve agriculture production.

Also striking is that the Nigerian government is in a bloody battle against the Boko Haram terrorist organisation, but still chose to vote against the anti-Hamas resolution.

Experts point out similarities between the two organisations in terms of their extremist religious views that are waged against civilian populations.

Netanyahu has been pushing for the past few years for improved ties with Africa by offering Israeli technology, expertise, and counter-terrorism intelligence.

The goal, in part, is to stop African nations from voting reflexively against Jerusalem in international forums. To some extent, it’s succeeding – but not enough. Israel has close relations with Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia – but they voted for the two-thirds majority. Had they not, then the anti-Hamas resolution would presumably have passed with a simple majority.

In the bigger picture, the resolution does not affect the reality on the ground, and it makes no difference whether it passed or not. UN resolutions seldom do. They are, rather, an indicator of public sentiment and world opinion. Netanyahu and Hamas can claim as many brownie points as they want, but nothing has changed.

It begs the question why there was even an attempt to get the UN to vote on the issue. It seems like outgoing United States Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, wanted one last major vote to seal her legacy. She will be replaced at the end of the year after announcing her resignation in October.

For real change to be affected, there will need to be a split among Arab states (and, to a lesser extent, African ones) in the international arena.

For this to happen, Sunni states will need to lead the way. They will always have much more influence on Hamas than the UN, other organs, or governments.

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