28th Oct 2016

UN vote marks EU defeat for Israel

  • Abbas called the UN text "the birth certificate" of the state of Palestine (Photo: United Nations Photo)

Just one EU country - the Czech Republic - voted against Palestine's bid to become a UN "observer state" on Thursday (29 November).

Fourteen others - Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Spain and Sweden - voted in favour. The rest, including Germany, until now a firm ally of Israel, abstained.

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The result highlighted the EU's lack of unity on the conflict.

But it also marked a drain in sympathy for Israel in Europe, with German officials saying earlier this week that their decision is a protest against Israeli settlement expansion.

Compared to a similar vote on Palestine's bid to join the UN's cultural agency, Unesco, 12 months ago, nine EU countries which abstained or voted No on Unesco changed their votes to Yes or abstained on the UN observer state decision.

Overall, Palestine won Thursday's vote by 138 to nine with 41 abstentions.

The other No votes came from Israel itself, Canada, the US and five minor countries - the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama.

The UN resolution fixes Palestine's borders on 1967 lines and says that Jerusalem is its capital in the face of Israeli settlement building and its competing claim to the holy city.

It also gives Palestine the right to file cases against Israel in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The vote came after ferocious speeches by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel's UN ambassador Ron Prosor.

Abbas called the UN text "the birth certificate for the reality which is the state of Palestine."

He dubbed Israel an "apartheid system of colonial occupation" and he accused it of "racism ... ethnic cleansing ... war crimes ... barbarity ... murder."

Prosor called Abbas' UN bid a "march of folly."

Noting that his resolution did not recognise Israel as a "Jewish state" or guarantee its security, he said it "is so one-sided, it doesn't advance peace, it pushes it backwards."

The office of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted on Abbas that "someone who wants peace does not talk in such a manner" and threatened to "act accordingly."

Meanwhile, several EU ambassadors took the floor in the UN chamber.

France described its Yes vote as "a choice of enlightenment and consistency."

Germany urged Israel and Palestine to resume peace talks and warned Palestine not to use its new ICC weapon - positions echoed by most EU speakers.

It said it liked Abbas' resolution because it called for a two-state solution, which "implicitly recognises Israel's right to exist."

There was a discrepancy between Italy and the UK.

The Italian ambassador said he voted Yes because Palestine promised Italy it would not use the ICC. The UK said it did not vote Yes because Palestine refused to make the promise.

Finland noted that: "Palestine now has institutions which pass the threshold of what constitutes a modern state."

Turkey and the US also spoke out.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu recalled his visit to Gaza amid the recent fighting.

He said he met a man who had lost his child and who wept on his shoulder, portraying him as a symbol of Palestine.

America's UN ambassador Susan Rice said: "Today's grand pronouncements will soon fade and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little has changed in their daily lives save that the prospects for a durable peace have receded."

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