Palestine

What Can We Learn from the UN General Assembly Resolution on Palestine?

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The recent vote on the UN General Assembly resolution to grant Palestine non-member observer state status in the United Nations caused uproar in the Georgian media. On 29 November the Georgian UN delegation turned on their “green light” at the General Assembly thereby signaling their support of the resolution. Questions about whether Georgia acted correctly; why the Georgian government decided to support Palestine; and how damaging or rewarding this choice may be for Georgia’s interests, naturally emerged. I will briefly try to analyze the pros and cons of this decision and will also touch upon the reaction to the decision amongst civil society.

Let me be clear from the very beginning: I believe that that the decision was correct. Or to be more precise, I believe that such a resolution should not have had to have been put to vote at the General Assembly at all, because such issues should be settled in other formats, but since it was put to the General Assembly, pressing the “green button” was a quite logical step on Georgia’s part.

What were Georgia’s motives?

Firstly, it must be noted that Georgia was no stranger to the issues and provisions at stake in the November UN resolution on Palestine. Georgia first recognized Palestine and established diplomatic ties with its government back in 1992. Over the past few years, Georgia has supported humanitarian resolutions concerning Palestine as it believed that humanitarian issues must be considered by the General Assembly of the UN. Georgia has also repeatedly expressed its stance towards the utmost importance of Israel’s security and in relation to favoring the “two-state solution.” To cut a long story short, by voting for the November resolution, Georgia said nothing new. It has merely reiterated the same position it repeatedly expressed before.

Georgia would have faced a tougher dilemma had the resolution implied Palestine’s membership to the UN or another international organization. Last year, when the resolution for Palestine’s membership to UNESCO was passed, Georgia abstained in the vote. The motivation at that time was clear – giving a country unrecognized by everyone the approval to join an international organization is, for clearly understandable reasons, no easy thing for Georgia to do. Moreover, in the 1990s US Congress adopted two laws according to which the United States would stop funding international organizations that admitted Palestine as a member. Consequently, last year Georgia did not support the decision which would result in decreased UNESCO funding. Indeed, after Palestine became a member of that organization, the United States not only stopped providing funding but even refused to pay its dues, amounting to 144 million USD, thereby creating serious problems to UNESCO operations. In the November resolution; the issue of full membership to the United Nations is only mentioned as part of a call to the Security Council to favorably consider the application that Palestine submitted on 23 September 2011.

In terms of content, Georgia supported everything written in the resolution and, in so doing, acted correctly in principle. Interestingly, the spirit of the November resolution echoed many of the statements that the former Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze, made about Palestine in an interview to the Georgian internet edition of civil.ge on 27 June 2012.

A separate issue is the non-recognition policy pursued by Georgian diplomats regarding Georgia’s breakaway regions and the country’s relations with the Arab world. The Russian Federation has long declared that it seeks to obtain recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from as many North African and Asian countries as possible. Talks concerning this started in early 2012. The Arab League, which supports the resolution on Palestine, comprises 22 countries (including Syria). Consequently, in order to successfully lobby for its non-recognition policy, Georgia must make all possible efforts with those countries. This is especially important as neither the United States nor the European Union, which both strongly support Georgia’s non-recognition policy, have much clout in this region. It is therefore understandable that Georgia refrains from taking such steps which would openly oppose the position of the Arab League, especially concerning matters where Georgia’s position has in fact coincided with theirs for many years.

We should also note the potential support the Arab world could offer to the important so-called “resolution on refugees,” which Georgia sponsors concerning the right for IDPs to return to their homes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which traditionally spends a significant amount of time and energy preparing that resolution, naturally keeps these potential Arab votes in mind. This year, two Arab countries (Sudan and Syria) voted against and no Arab countries voted in favor of our resolution. Perhaps Georgia has calculated that by supporting the November resolution on Palestine, the countries of the Arab League will feel somewhat obliged to take a “green” position regarding Georgia in the future. In any case, the logic is crystal clear to me – by supporting the Palestine resolution, the chances of receiving Arab League votes has increased, whereas had we abstained from voting for that resolution the chances of getting such votes would have been very slim.

Last but not least, Georgia has decided to run in the 2014 United Nations Security Council election for one of the non-permanent seats on the Council with a two-year mandate. The election will be held in 2013 and, as each vote is important in order to secure this seat, it is easy to assume that the Georgian government has kept that in mind too.

What negative effects can supporting the Resolution on Palestine have?

Naturally, the main issue that the Georgian government must have considered when voting for that resolution would have been the

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor
likely reaction of Israel and the United States.

Let’s first discuss the case of the United States. Georgia and the US are strategic partners, meaning that they have identical stances on many foreign policy issues – be it the situation in Afghanistan or the current developments in Syria and Libya. Nevertheless, this strategic partnership does not mean that Georgia always acts identically to the US when voting on UN resolutions. Let’s look at three examples when Georgia’s position does not coincide with that of the United States:

Kosovo: Georgia and the US are on opposite sides of the divide regarding the issue of Kosovo. The United States supports the independence of Kosovo, whereas Georgia respects the territorial integrity of Serbia. The urgency of the Kosovo issue will probably increase in the foreseeable future as Kosovo makes attempts to join a number of European institutions. When this happens, I cannot imagine that Georgia will change its position and will thus remain at odds with the stance of the US.

Cuba sanctions: The same holds true for Georgia’s attitude towards the US embargo on Cuba. In 1992, when the UN General Assembly first adopted the resolution condemning this embargo, 59 countries supported it and only two states (the US and Israel) voted against it. The same resolution adopted on 13 November 2012 was supported by 188 countries (a record high vote) with only three countries - the US, Israel and Palau, voting against and only the Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstaining. Therefore the suggestion that Georgia has not taken opposing stances to issues painful for the United States is clearly not true.

Resolutions on Palestine: The resolutions related to Palestine are worth noting separately. There have been 20 separate resolutions that have covered a diverse number of issues, ranging from the rights of refugees to the Palestinian population’s access to health care. In recent years Georgia’s position towards these resolutions has been positive. This is in clear contrast to the positions of the US or Israel, which have either voted against them or abstained.

It is thus obvious that the reaction of the US was not a factor deterring Georgia in November’s vote on Palestine. Moreover, taking into account that just days before this recent resolution was passed the US Assistant Secretary of State, Philip Gordon, and the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Eric Rubin, visited Georgia, while on the day of the vote itself the Georgian Foreign Minister was in Washington, it is easy to guess that Georgia must have discussed this topic with the United States. In fact, a statement that the US Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland, made within days after the vote suggests that the United States understands our position perfectly well.

The main problem that remains is the position of Israel, which I am sure that Georgian diplomats must have thoroughly considered before submitting their final decision on the Palestine resolution to the Prime Minister. Naturally we would not have sought consent on this decision from Israel, as they would never openly approve a decision to vote in favor of Palestine. Nor would we have promised Israel any support in opposing the resolution, which alone would have sent a clear message to any seasoned diplomat. The public demarche subsequently made by Israel’s ambassador to Georgia is thus, in my view, quite understandable. I assume all of Israel’s ambassadors were instructed to make such demarches in each and every country that supported the November resolution on Palestine. Israel and Georgia have good relations and neither the Israeli government nor the large number of Jews living in Georgia would have been happy about Georgia’s decision. But had the Georgian government explained the motives behind their decision in due time, I am sure that such a reaction would not have followed. As regards the postponement of the visit of the Israeli Foreign Minister to Georgia, it is not yet clear whether this is because of the resolution or for another reason. If the reason is indeed the Palestine resolution, then such a reaction to single out Georgia among the 137 other states that voted for the resolution is somewhat odd.

It should be necessarily noted here that Georgia not only voted for that resolution, but also explained its decision immediately after the vote. In that explanation, Georgia actually repeated all the points that the delegations of Israel and the United States had themselves pronounced. The Georgian government thus took quite a “diplomatic” step – supporting Palestine by deed and Israel by word.

The recent insinuations and speculations that in taking this step Georgia has recognized Hamas and, indirectly, the independence of Abkhazia – as Hamas welcomed the recognition of Abkhazia’s independence by Russia on 26 August 2008 – deserve to be mentioned separately. This chain of logic is absolutely incomprehensible. Georgia has not recognized Hamas. For Georgia, as for the majority of countries, the legitimate authority of Palestine is Fatah and the government of Mahmoud Abbas and it is with them that we have diplomatic relations. The support of the Palestine resolution thus has nothing to do with the recognition of Hamas. I will deliberately refrain from dwelling on how real the recognition of Abkhazia by Hamas is. When the Hamas press secretary made the August 2008 statement it was, of course, a blow to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but to what extent that statement is tantamount to diplomatic recognition is a matter for the lawyers to figure out. But in my opinion, it is not. Even if it were so, the resolution on Palestine has no relation to the recognition of Hamas.

What conclusions can we draw?

This has all been discussed for several weeks now - everything seems to have been said and every opinion already expressed. The case of the Palestine resolution seems to be passing into oblivion. It has, however, brought three other problems to my attention.

First: The new government clearly needs to improve two things – its internal coordination and its public relations. The problem of internal coordination was visibly revealed when, over a course of a single day, members of the parliamentary majority made a number of contradictory statements. Almost every one of them was not only surprised about Georgia’s support for the resolution, but also about the fact that such a resolution had been put to vote at all. True, the government is new and is in the process of learning, but as many more issues will soon need to be decided, unless it improves its coordination right away worse results will likely happen when the right hand is ignorant of what the left hand is doing.

As regards public relations, these have already fallen to an almost catastrophic low. The case of the resolution on Palestine shows this conspicuously. Although the situation became clear when the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued its explanation, this unfortunately came much too late. Yet again, the government was being reactive rather than proactive. To understand the difference,

Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly
let’s consider the case of the Foreign Ministry of Cyprus (and I cite this example because Cyprus also has a “conflict” and yet still supported the resolution) which issued a detailed explanation of the position it was going to take well before the vote on the Palestine resolution took place. Accordingly, the reaction of Cypriot society was not as acute as it was here. It would be good if the Georgian Foreign Ministry resumed the Monday press briefings that the previous government held in order to inform society about forthcoming events.

Second: It seems that the change in power has “blinded” a large segment of society, including many experts. Some are blinded by their abhorrence to Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, others by their repugnance of President Mikheil Saakashvili. The first reaction to Georgia’s vote from many people, including some so-called experts, was: “That was [Georgia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Alexander] Lomaia’s dirty trick” or “That was staged by Misha.” From the other side of the divide one could hear: “Yet more foolishness of Ivanishvili,” “Beware! The worst is yet to come!” or “Were we not saying that traitors to our country have come to power?!” What’s more disturbing is that each of these assessments were made by “experts” rushing to give interviews to convey their “true” opinions without first having made any effort to find out what really happened. Indicative of this lack of forethought is that when the Foreign Ministry finally gave its explanation the rhetoric of the “experts”, who had since either received “instructions” or Googled “Palestine-related issues,” swiftly changed to continue on a more rational vein. In short, this all displayed the pitiable state of Georgian experts once again.

Third: Every person with even a slight knowledge of the issue must have known at least three months beforehand that the resolution on Palestine would be passed at the end of November. Those who follow foreign politics and watch international news must have known that this issue would soon be put on the agenda. The fuss and amazement following the passing of the vote was therefore surprising, to say the least. Georgia has “reactive experts” in abundance – those who evaluate facts after they have happened. That’s why it is only in Georgia that one can see the same “expert” assessing, with equal vigor and self-confidence, such diverse topics as the damage caused by pests to plants in Western Georgia, changes in macroeconomic indicators crucial for the country’s development, the influence of political processes in Malawi on the regional policy of South Africa, or, indeed, the consequences of the resolution on Palestine. But these so-called experts can only assess such matters post-factum – after they learn about the facts either from Google or, as usually happens in Georgia, directly from journalists.

 

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