Australian Jewish News
April 16, 2014
In his recently released diary and memoir, former foreign minister Bob Carr described his effort to change Australia’s vote pattern on the UN General Assembly resolution “Lebanese Oil Slick” in late November 2012, and how he met resistance from then-prime minister Julia Gillard. Controversially, Carr even released private text messages between himself and Gillard on the subject.
Yet, according to his diary, he even went further. Gillard’s determination to continue the voting pattern of her predecessors and vote against the resolution upset him so that he called Australia’s UN envoy Gary Quinlan on the morning of the vote, apparently with the intention of defying her instructions and telling him to vote for or abstain on the resolution. To Carr’s chagrin, however, Gillard’s office had already given Quinlan written instructions to vote against it.
Carr wrote that he then called former foreign minister Gareth Evans to commiserate over what he called the “disgraceful” and “shameful” decision to continue to vote against the resolution – and used the disagreement as a tool to persuade Labor MPs to roll Gillard in caucus over Australia’s stance regarding another impending UN vote – that of upgrading the status of the Palestinian delegation.
In separate interviews last month with Radio National’s Fran Kelly and ABC’s Libby Gorr, Carr said that “Lebanon was right” and that he had promised the Lebanese Foreign Minister that he would vote for the resolution “on its merits”.
Carr wrote in his diary: “[Australia] had voted against the resolution [annually since it was first introduced in 2006] on the grounds that we do not consider the General Assembly the appropriate forum. But this implies we are unsympathetic and in my view Lebanon is a country with which we have friendly relations.”
But what exactly is the Lebanese Oil Slick resolution?
Before we look at the substance of the resolution, it’s important to put it into context. At the UN General Assembly, anti-Israel resolutions represent a disproportionally high percentage of all country-specific resolutions passed each year.
The Lebanese Oil Spill resolution was first voted on during the 61st session of the General Assembly (November 2006). That year, the GA adopted 61 country-specific resolutions. Fully 21 of those resolutions – over one in three – were composed of one-sided condemnations of Israel.
These resolutions are usually initiated by members of the Arab Group, and are routinely passed by a wide margin in the General Assembly due to the tendency of member states to vote in blocs.
The Second Lebanon War began when Hezbollah ambushed an IDF patrol on a road on the Israeli side of the Israel-Lebanon border, killing three soldiers and kidnapping two more. Concurrently, Hezbollah launched large scale rocket attacks into Israel. More casualties were encountered by Israel in pursuit of the kidnappers and Hezbollah continued its onslaught of thousand of rocket strikes on northern Israel that burned thousands of hectares of forest and caused other serious environmental damage, as well as deaths and general property damage.
In the early days of the war, Israel bombed the Jiyeh power station near Beirut as a strategic target, and a resulting oil spill eventually affected dozens of kilometres of Lebanese coastline, as well as a small part of Syria. Israel cooperated with international agencies which set out to clean up the spill – a cleanup which was completed years ago and was not as serious nor as expensive as initially feared – but later that year, Lebanon used the UN Second Committee’s Sustainable Development department as a forum for a resolution calling for Israel to pay Lebanon for damages suffered as a result of a spill.
Setting aside any discussion about its merits for the moment, Sustainable Development was clearly not the appropriate place for this claim. In fact, no other war-related environment claim had been raised in this forum, before or since. This was precisely the reason Canada gave at the time for voting against it, while the US and Israel’s spoke out against because it was one-sided, did not take into account Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia’s role in starting the war, and did not balance the Lebanese claim with the extensive environmental damage Hezbollah had inflicted upon Israel during the war.
The Lebanese oil slick resolution was introduced by the Arab-dominated G-77 bloc, and passed 170-6-0, with Australia standing together with the US, Canada, Israel and some Pacific nations.
The resolution has since become an annual ritual. Meanwhile, Australia continued to vote against the resolution every year.
Despite the lopsided vote, this was clearly not a resolution that Western countries felt comfortable with.
According to Wikileaks, in 2008 France – speaking for the EU in remarks to the Second Committee – showed its distaste for the politicised resolution by hinting that it expected it to be dropped for 2009.
Yet instead, the resolution returned year after year, and even became progressively more biased against Israel.
By 2010, audacious language was added to the resolution calling for an examination of the potential role of the Compensation Commission in securing the relevant compensation from Israel. This time, the Netherlands spoke out against it. The UNCC had been a mechanism to skim reparations from Iraq’s oil profits for damages Iraq had caused in a war it had initiated in the early 1990s. In contrast, everyone agreed that the initiator of the 2006 Lebanon war was Hezbollah – not Israel.
Yet the resolution continued to become ever more extreme in its language, and it was this increasingly unfair resolution that Carr so desperately wanted Australia to back in 2012.
There is nothing special about this resolution that should have warranted an about-face in Australian policy. Rather, the Lebanese Oil Slick resolution is just another example of a broken UN system, whereby automatic majorities created by blocs of largely non-democratic regimes push agendas that divert attention away from the world’s real problems. The only thing “disgraceful” or “shameful” would be if Australia were to abandon its principles and pander to the biases ingrained in this system instead of working to correct them.
Prime Minister Gillard was right to insist that Australia continue to reject this biased and misdirected resolution.
Meanwhile, Carr – whose diary reveals that he saw this vote mostly as an opportunity to shamelessly pander to Australia’s Lebanese community – needs to provide Australians with a better explanation for why he felt this one-sided resolution deserved our sympathy and our vote.
Ahron Shapiro is a Policy Analyst for the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affiars Council.