With annexation looming Canada’s UNSC upset is bad news for Israel, US

The United Nations Security Council, February 28, 2020 (photo credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)
Canada’s lost bid for a United Nations Security Council seat is bad news for Israel, particularly in light of pending plans to annex portions of the West Bank and the expected renewed Palestinian drive for UN membership.
Outside of the United States, Canada has been one of the staunchest friends Israel has at the United Nations. Like the United States, it holds that the UN’s treatment of Israeli is biased. Canada has risen unequivocally to its defense, casting “no” votes, almost as dependably and frequently as the United States.
It’s reputation as a friend of Israel, is so strong, that there is much speculation that it failed to obtain a UNSC seat, its second loss in ten years, specifically due to its pro-Israel stances.
In the run-up to this week's elections, pro-Palestinian groups campaigned against Canada, specifically highlighting its strong ties to Israel. The Canadian Foreign Policy Institute ran an online petition against Ottawa’s acquisition of the seat.
It stated, "since coming to power the Trudeau government has voted against more than fifty UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights backed by the overwhelming majority of member states. … Should it win a seat on the UNSC, Ottawa has stated that it will act as an 'asset for Israel' on the Council.”
The campaign against its UNSC membership so concerned Canada, that its UN Mission in New York circulated a letter to UN member states published by the NGO Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), in which Canada defended its rejection of “one-sided” UN resolutions against Israel.
The Canadian Mission clarified that it supported a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and opposed any Israeli annexation efforts.
It was an argument that fell on deaf ears at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) where the Palestinians have an automatic majority of support among the 193 members states.
The UNGA rejected Canada's bid and approved instead UNSC membership for five new countries; India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico and Norway.
It was a sharp reminder of the type of diplomatic price tag Israel’s allies can suffer on the international stage.
One could argue that the UNGA vote has little significance for Israel when it comes to the 15-member UNSC, which is composed of ten rotating seats every two years and five permanent members.
Those five members have the ability to veto any UNSC resolution. It is a structural setup that leaves the UN’s most powerful body in the hands of the five post powerful countries, including the United States.
The US under the Trump administration has given Israel is unqualified support and is likely to veto any anti-Israel resolution, including one on annexation, particularly if that step is taken with its approval and in the context of the US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.
The Trump administration is more likely to cast that veto in Israel’s favor than any other past American administration. Its disdain of both the UN and multilateral diplomacy in general means that it has no problem standing alone in defense of unpopular positions.
With that in mind, it would seem as if Israel should pay little if scant attention to any changes in UNSC membership as long as US support is secured.
But the drama at the US is not just about results. Over time, it has also become about a public relations battle, in which every vote counts for Israelis and Palestinians, even in a situation of an otherwise guaranteed loss. It is in this arena that Canada’s loss is greatest for Israel.
The Trump administration's ease in standing alone in a UN vote is a stance that the Palestinians have exploited as they seek public relations victories through highlighting US and Israeli isolation on the international stage.
Since Trump took office, acrimonious UNSC debates that were once solely focused on Israel have now also targeted the US.
Had Canada been given membership, its presence in the room would have dimmed the effectiveness of that tactic by placing another nation in Israel’s corners, thereby robbing the anti-Israel and anti-US arguments of some of their luster by giving the conversation a more multilateral twist.
The UNSC is the UN body with the most amount of power, and the US granting of an almost automatic veto to Israel, has stymied the Palestinians from using it as an effective tool to advance its agenda. The US ability to do so, has allowed those who want to reform the UNSC voting system to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of the reasons why UNSC reform is a must.
Among the most significant roles the UNSC plays is that of gatekeeper to the UN, because its support is needed for any successful membership bid. The US rejections of such bids, and the veto it holds, has been one of the key factors that has kept the Palestinians from becoming a UN member state.
Palestinians are likely to use any Israeli annexation measures to renew their campaign for both US membership and for statehood recognition from the Western powers.
Most Western and European powers have held Palestinian statehood recognition hostage to the successful completion of a final status agreement for a two-state solution.
The Palestinians will argue that Israeli annexation, even within the context of the Trump plan, has made such a final status agreement impossible and therefore there is no longer any reason to refrain from full statehood recognition. The Palestinian Authority could note that such recognition could bolster its standing, just when it is at the point of collapse by giving it a victory to bring home to the Palestinian people.
They could push forward for a vote in hopes that they could secure all 14 UNSC member states, without the US, by way of hammering home the need in their case for an alternate mechanism to achieve UN membership.
Until now, other permanent members of the UNSC, such as the United Kingdom and France, have also opposed the Palestinians' membership drive precisely on the grounds that it should come after completion of a peace process.
The PA will now push to change those votes. It has added impetus to do so now, prior to January, because Canada aside, the new slate of UNGA members are more favorable to Israel than the ones who are leaving at the end of December, by a thin margin.
Among those exiting nations are two automatic “yes” votes for the Palestinians - namely Indonesia which has no formal diplomatic ties with Israel and South Africa, which has downgraded ties.
But all five of the new members have relations with Israel, including Kenya which replaces South Africa and with whom Israel is working to improve ties.
India, which has strong ties with Israel, but an otherwise poor voting record on its behalf at the UN, replaces Indonesia.
Germany and Belgium, will be replaced by Norway and Ireland. Norway is not part of the European Union, but is likely to vote in accordance with its common positions. Ireland is more hostile to Israel than either Germany or Belgium and would certainly be more likely to break from the EU’s common position to cast a vote in favor of Palestinian statehood.
Had Canada been voted in, it would be at the expense of either Ireland or Norway.
Mexico, which has been increasingly supportive of Israel at the UN, replaces the Dominican Republic which has been more likely to vote against Israel.
It’s a lineup that will become more significant should Trump lose to the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who is now leading in the polls.
One has to ask what would a Palestinian statehood drive or in fact any anti-Israel drive at the UNSC look like with Biden as president in a post-annexation universe.
Biden has been a strong friend of Israel and is likely to continue the United States’ position of backing Israel at the UN in general and at the UNSC in specific.
True, he is on record as opposing annexation, but it is unlikely that this would translate months after annexation, into support for a Palestinian statehood or anti-Israel UN votes.
Still, given his support for multilateral diplomacy, he would be less likely than Trump to want to stand at the UN alone, unless absolutely pushed.
Biden will likely be at his most vulnerable at the UN in his first year, when he is still seeking to make his mark on the international stage and repair bridges burned by Trump.
His preference, will likely be that of past US administrations, who preferred to kill such initiatives before they came to a vote by ensuring that they do not even have the necessary nine votes to ensure its passage and thereby eliminate the necessity for a veto vote.
It’s a strategy that will likely be more successful given the slate of new UNSC candidates and it here, within this strategy, that Canada on the UNSC, would have had the most impact in Israel’s favor.

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