Israel Skipped UN Vote on Syria War Crimes on Netanyahu's Order

Defying Foreign Ministry view, likely due to pressure from Moscow, PM tells representatives to avoid vote on decision, which passed; the next day Russia voted in favor of anti-settlement resolution.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Syrians surround a man as he cries over the body of his child after she was pulled out from the rubble of a building following government airstrikes in the rebel-held Aleppo, September 27, 2016.
Syrians surround a man as he cries over the body of his child after she was pulled out from the rubble of a building following government airstrikes in the rebel-held Aleppo, September 27, 2016.Credit: KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/ קאראם
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Israel’s UN delegation last week to skip a General Assembly vote on a proposal to establish an international mechanism for gathering evidence for war crimes during Syria's civil war.

Netanyahu’s directive, reported for the first time on Tuesday by Yedioth Ahronoth, was made three days before the United Nations Security Council vote on the resolution against the Israeli settlements, and in contradiction to the Foreign Ministry staff's opinion that Israel should support the resolution.

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The motion passed by a large margin on Thursday, in the absence of Israeli representatives.

Senior officials in Jerusalem confirmed the details and explained that the General Assembly vote differed from others on the Syrian issue. For a long time Russia has used its veto in that forum to block any attempt to pass resolutions about Syria. The United States and other countries thus decided to exploit the UN Charter so as to bypass the Security Council and push for a resolution in the General Assembly that would still be binding.

Prior to the General Assembly session, Foreign Ministry staff discussed and formulated a recommendation about the vote for the Prime Minister Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister.

A senior official explained that the ministry considered the vote to be highly sensitive for two reasons: One was related to the Russians' stance in opposition to the resolution, and to Israel's desire to maintain good relations with Moscow vis-a-vis Syria.

Read more on the Security Council resolution:Netanyahu is dragging Israel into the abyss / Editorial | Punishing the world for UN vote will be worse for Israel than BDS / Analysis | Israel Won’t Honor All Its Knee-jerk Reactions / Analysis | World begins to rescue Israel from itself / Analysis Obama, where have you been for 8 wasted years? / Analysis | Why the Palestinians are jubilant and Israel is spooked / Analysis | Security Council punch knocks Netanyahu down from hubris to humiliation / Analysis | What will the immediate ramifications of the UN resolution be?

The other, perhaps more important reason, was related to the fact that the decision in effect would expand the powers of the UN General Assembly and enable it to pass practical resolutions on diplomatic and legal issues – not only declarative or technical resolutions. The official added that heightening these powers does not serve the Israeli interest, and noted that although the General Assembly decision refers to Syria, it is liable to set a precedent that can be used against Israel in the Palestinian context.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a conference in Ma'alot on developing the Galilee and Israel's northern areas, Dec. 27, 2016.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Despite these two reservations, in the final analysis the Foreign Ministry recommended that Israel vote in favor of the resolution. The main reason was that the massacres and ongoing warfare in Syria constitute a moral issue, and thus Israel must not oppose the decision.

But in the end, not a single Israeli representative showed up at the UN General Assembly last Thursday to vote in favor. According to Yedioth Ahronoth, the reason for the disappearance of the diplomats was the heavy pressure the Russians apparently brought to bear on the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. As a result, Netanyahu decided to reject the Foreign Ministry's recommendation and to instruct the delegation not to attend.

The resolution passed by a large majority; Israel was absent along with countries such as Libya, Eritrea and Rwanda. The next day Russia voted in favor of Security Council Resolution 2334, condemning Israel's settlements in the territories.

Since Friday's vote, Israel has launched an attack against the United Nations and all countries that voted in favor of that decision. Netanyahu and other ministers have repeated a claim made innumerable times in recent years, in response to any international criticism regarding the settlements.

“Think about this absurdity," Netanyahu said on Saturday night. "Half a million human beings are being slaughtered in Syria The entire Middle East is going up in flames and the Obama administration and the Security Council choose to gang up on the only democracy in the Middle East: the State of Israel. What a disgrace.”

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