Australia/Israel Review, Featured
A terrible UN tradition
Dec 14, 2022 | Justin Amler
Australia’s changing stance on Israeli-Palestinian resolutions
There is a yearly tradition that takes place in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) each November and December. It is a tradition in which the same old messages, the same old lies and the same old tired fabrications are regurgitated ad nauseam. It is a tradition that asks the 193 member states to suspend their belief in a world of logic and rationality, and instead adopt a world of fantasy and make-believe.
Each year, like a finely tuned Swiss clock, around 22 anti-Israel resolutions are presented at the United Nations General Assembly. Sometimes the words differ slightly, or a clause might be introduced, but it is essentially the same resolutions repeated every year. They have been termed ‘zombie resolutions’ in the past for their propensity to simply never die!
And they are not meant to die, because the point of them is to not actually resolve the conflict, but to prolong it. Sponsored originally by the Soviet bloc and the Arab states, today perpetuated by the automatic vote of most developing nations in support of the Arab and Islamic blocs, they do not exist to serve the interests of Middle East peace but rather to serve as a springboard to demonise Israel and to launch persistent, unfounded attacks against the Jewish State.
Of the many resolutions though, there are eight in particular that we should discuss and analyse further, because these are the ones on which Australia’s voting record has varied over the years, often depending on the government of the day.
1. Applicability of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons
Demands that Israel accept the de jure applicability of the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and other Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, and that it comply scrupulously with the provisions of the Convention;
The point of this resolution is to apply the Fourth Geneva convention rules and obligations to the areas of the West Bank and the Gaza strip. The Geneva Conventions apply in all cases of declared war, or in any other armed conflict between nations.
There are strong legal arguments why this convention doesn’t apply to the West Bank and Gaza – namely, the convention applies only to territory captured from high-contracting parties to the convention, and Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan, which never had recognised sovereignty over the areas. They were certainly never “Palestinian territory”, as the resolution claims.
However, those arguments are ignored.
Nevertheless, despite the ‘demands’ of this resolution, Israel still voluntarily applies the humanitarian provisions of the resolution in these areas.
In the years from 1996 to 2003 under the Howard Liberal Government, Australia had voted for this resolution, but between 2004 and 2007 it changed its vote to abstain, recognising that these areas are, at best, disputed.
From 2008 to 2012, under the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments, Australia reverted to supporting this resolution, but when Tony Abbott (Liberal) took power in 2013, it changed again to abstain, which has been the case since then.
It remains to be seen what the Albanese Labor Government will do, but as of Dec. 5, the resolution hasn’t been reintroduced in the current sitting session.
2. The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination
Urges all States and the specialized agencies and organizations of the United Nations system to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination.
This resolution is a classic example of applying a worldwide standard to the principle of self-determination and yet singling out Israel. It accuses Israel of impeding the right of Palestinian self-determination by the construction of its security barrier in the West Bank to stop terror attacks. But the resolution omits all mention of the Palestinian obligations under the Road Map to dismantle terrorist networks before a state can even be created. It also doesn’t mention the lack of education for peace in Palestinian school curricula and public discourse. Even the European Union, which is the single largest donor to Ramallah, has raised concerns about incitement in Palestinian education.
To support this resolution essentially means to ignore all the Palestinian incitement, and obligations to dismantle terror infrastructure and educate their people towards a peaceful future.
Australia first supported this resolution from 1996 to 2003, before abstaining from 2004 to 2008. It once again supported it from 2009 to 2017, before abstaining from 2018 onwards.
Unfortunately, in the 3rd Committee vote on Nov. 17, a vote held prior to the General Assembly vote, Australia switched its vote to in favour on this unfair resolution once again.
3. The status of Jerusalem
Recalling the Security Council press statement on Jerusalem of 17 September 2015, in which the Council called, inter alia, for the exercise of restraint, refraining from provocative actions and rhetoric and upholding unchanged the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif…
Expressing its concern about the Israeli excavations undertaken in the Old City of Jerusalem, including in and around religious sites…
This resolution strongly implies that the Israeli administration of Jerusalem hinders freedom of religion. This is an absolute distortion of reality.
To understand why this accusation is wrong, we must understand what occurred prior to Israeli administration.
During the period between 1948 and 1967, when the eastern area of Jerusalem, including the Old City, was illegally occupied by Jordan, a cultural destruction of Jewish holy sites took place.
The Jordanians expelled all Jewish residents, destroyed 58 synagogues and looted their contents.
They turned Jewish religious sites into chicken coops and animal stalls.
They also ransacked the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where Jews had been buried for over 2,500 years, desecrating Jewish graves and using the smashed tombstones as building material.
Under Article VIII of the Israel-Jordan Armistice agreement of 1949, the Jordanians were supposed to grant ‘free access to the Holy Places and cultural institutions, including the use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives,’ but purposely, and in absolute and flagrant violation, refused to do so.
Under Israeli control, all faiths have access to the city and enjoy full freedom. The only major limitation actually applies only to Jews, who are unable to pray freely on the Temple Mount, due to it being left under the administration of the Islamic Waqf religious trust, which Israel allowed to retain control after it liberated the city in the 1967 Six Day War.
The resolution ignores all that history and only uses the Islamic term of “Haram al-Sharif” for the Temple Mount, completely eliminating any Jewish connection to what is Judaism’s holiest site.
Historically, Australia supported this resolution from 1996 to 2003. From 2004 to 2010, it abstained. It then supported it again from 2011 to 2012 before abstaining from 2013 to 2017. It has then voted against it from 2018 onwards. Canberra should continue this principled stand from a purely moral perspective, because to agree to this resolution is to support a completely false narrative presented by the Palestinians.
We have not yet seen this specific resolution come up in the current UN session.
4. Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine
Emphasizing the importance of the safety, protection and well-being of all civilians in the whole Middle East region, and condemning all acts of violence and terror against civilians on both sides,
Reiterating its concern over the negative developments that have continued to occur in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, including the large number of deaths and injuries, mostly among Palestinian civilians, the construction and expansion of settlements and the wall, acts of violence, vandalism and brutality committed against Palestinian civilians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank…
The purpose of this resolution is to reaffirm the “illegality of Israeli settlement activity” including in Jerusalem. The language used is redundant as it mirrors other motions, while blaming Israel alone for the lack of peace.
References to terror fail to name the perpetrators such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Only Israel is explicitly criticised. It also ignores all Israeli peace deals offered throughout the years from Oslo to Camp David in 2000 to the Olmert deals in 2008, and the Palestinian rejection of those deals.
From 1996 to 2017 Australia abstained, but in the last few years, from 2018, it has voted no, accepting that this resolution was not balanced or fair, condemning Israel while demanding nothing of the Palestinians, and, in doing so, making a two-state peace more difficult to achieve. It is regrettable then that Australia has changed its vote once again and abstained on the resolution on Nov. 30 during the current UN session.
5. Palestine refugees and their properties and revenues
Reaffirms that the Palestine refugees are entitled to their property and to the income derived therefrom, in conformity with the principles of equity and justice
Calls once again upon Israel to render all facilities and assistance to the Secretary-General in the implementation of the present resolution;
This resolution affirms that Palestinian refugees are entitled to their property and the income derived therefrom. However, once again, it is a one-sided resolution that ignores the claims of around 900,000 Jewish refugees who were expelled or forced out of homes in the Arab world, and generally deprived of all their property.
By saying that the Palestinian refugees are entitled to their properties, the resolution implicitly endorses a Palestinian “right of return” whose practical effects means the end of Israel, as it would be overwhelmed by the number of Palestinian “refugees” entering the country. This is the antithesis of the ‘two states for two peoples’ formula for peace.
It’s also important to dive a little deeper to understand the actual definition of what exactly a refugee is.
The UN signed a convention of refugees in 1951, which defined a refugee as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
However, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) came up with a unique definition applied only to Palestinian “refugees” – a person “whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict” – including all their descendants!
Because this definition applies only to Palestinians, and no other people on Earth, it means that they will always be refugees irrespective of whether they become citizens of other countries. This is the reason why, while Arabs who left their homes during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 totalled around 700,000, the number of Palestinians considered refugees today totals around 5.6 million and growing.
This resolution nonsensically implies support for the “return” of 5.6 million Palestinians, but ignores completely the 900,000 Jewish refugees and their property.
From 1996 until 2017, Australia supported this resolution; however, in the last three years, it has abstained, going some way to recognising how unfair and one sided it actually is. Sadly, that course appears to have now been reversed, as in a recent 4th Committee vote on Nov. 11, Australia once again supported this biased and unhelpful resolution.
6. Persons displaced as a result of the 1967 and subsequent hostilities
Endorses, in the meantime, the efforts of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East to continue to provide humanitarian assistance…
This is similar to the previous resolution in that it “reaffirms the right of all persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities to return to their homes or former places of residence in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967.”
It also stresses the “necessity for an accelerated return.”
This resolution, like the others, ignores the efforts Israel has made in various peace offers throughout the years. It calls for Palestinian refugees to return to Israel without any peace deal or negotiated settlement, thereby prejudging all future efforts.
While talking about 1967 hostilities, it fails to provide any kind of context, including the fact that Israel fought a defensive war against the surrounding Arab nations which led to the situation.
It also endorses UNRWA, which propagandises for the legally baseless and peace-destroying Palestinian “right of return”.
As in the previous resolution, Australia supported this resolution from 1996 until 2017, before abstaining from 2018 onwards, again showing some understanding of the problematic nature of the resolution.
As of Dec. 5, this specific resolution had not yet come up in the current UN session.
7. The Syrian Golan
This resolution talks about how the UNGA is “deeply concerned” that Israel has not withdrawn from the Golan, which it says is under occupation since 1967.
As with other resolutions, there is no context provided.
This resolution is completely oblivious to the massacres that have taken place in Syria during its brutal civil war, and ignores the security implications for Israel and its citizens should the Golan Heights come under the control of the Syrian regime of the wanted war criminal Bashar al-Assad.
It ignores the security situation prior to 1967, when the Syrian military would use the strategic position of the Golan Heights to fire indiscriminately on Israeli civilians in the valley below these heights. It also completely ignores Syria’s contribution to the self-described “war of annihilation” in which it actively and enthusiastically participated in 1967 that led to its loss of this territory.
Calls are also made only on Israel to negotiate with Syria and Lebanon, without equivalent demands on those other countries.
The idea of Israel giving away its territory, thus endangering its citizens, to a regime run by a war criminal that massacres its own citizens and has shown zero interest in peaceful coexistence – and today has no effective control over much of its own territory – is absurd.
From 1996 until 2017, Australia abstained on this vote. Since 2018, it has voted against this resolution. Fortunately, Australia has kept those principles intact as it has once again voted against this resolution in this UN session.
8. Occupied Syrian Golan
Calls upon Israel to desist from imposing Israeli citizenship and Israeli identity cards on the Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan, and from its repressive measures against the population of the occupied Syrian Golan;
This resolution is effectively redundant given the Syrian Golan resolution.
It essentially says that all Israeli action to “alter the character and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan” is considered null and void.
The same objections to the Syrian Golan resolution apply here and it once again neglects Syria’s sponsorship of terrorism and the fact that the Syrian regime is headed by a wanted war criminal. It also falsely claims that Israel is oppressing and imposing Israeli citizenship on the 25,000 Arab residents who live there – a complete lie. These residents are completely free to decide to keep their Syrian citizenship or adopt Israeli citizenship at their own discretion.
Interestingly, Australia supported this resolution from 1996 until 2017, but has chosen to abstain in the last three years rather than voting against it as it did on the Syrian Golan resolution above. In the 4th Committee vote on Nov. 30, prior to it being sent to the General Assembly, Australia has indicated it will continue this trend by abstaining once again.
It is abundantly clear that the disproportionate number of UN General Assembly resolutions that are passed against Israel is due to a general, unhealthy obsession with the Jewish state at the UN. Hundreds of resolutions have been passed against Israel over the years – while far fewer have been passed criticising some of the worst human rights abusers on the planet. Indeed, some, such as China, are virtually never criticised.
In last year’s 76th session of the UN General Assembly, 14 resolutions were passed denouncing Israel, while only five were passed denouncing all other countries in the world. And while not all resolutions have yet made it to the General Assembly this year, this trend is continuing, with 15 resolutions already passed denouncing Israel, versus 13 for all the rest of the world combined.
But what is clear is that these resolutions do nothing to promote peace or to bring about the two-state outcome that much of the world believes is the answer to resolving the conflict. Instead, these resolutions exist only to demonise Israel and call into question its very legitimacy among the nations – and thus make the Palestinians, who have already walked away from three serious two-state peace offers, even less willing to negotiate and compromise.
Countries like Australia, with its reputation as a fair-minded and honest broker, should uphold and adhere to our own principles – including bipartisan support for a genuine negotiated two-state resolution – and not be pressured into joining in the cesspool of relentless hatred launched against the Jewish state at the UN, year after year, at the expense of any such hopes.
Unfortunately, Australia’s negative change of vote on some of the resolutions will be counter-productive to Australia’s own long-standing sensible bipartisan foreign policy goal of seeking to contribute to a negotiated two-state resolution.