UN resolutions on Palestine and the European selectivity on human rights – Middle East Monitor
Almost every year, draft resolutions related to Israeli violations of Palestinian rights are debated and voted on by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and its subsidiary organ, the Human Rights Council (HRC). Although resolutions adopted by the UNGA and HRC may not be legally binding, they represent strong political commitments and represent states’ positions. The process of debating and voting on these resolutions crucially shows how states selectively behave on human rights issues according to their national interests. The approach of European states towards Palestine and Israel is a clear example of such behaviour.
Many European states do not support key UN resolutions regarding Israeli violations against Palestine. They vote against or abstain from such resolutions, describing these as unilateral steps that would harm possible peace efforts between Israel and Palestine. Germany and the UK – the two largest European states by population – have clearly sided with Israel by considering these resolutions unfair and biased. Germany also sees Israel’s support as a historical responsibility. So, instead, he highlights attacks against Israel, calls for the condemnation of such attacks, and asks the UN to look into violations elsewhere.
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The UK, which left its mandate in Palestine after the establishment of Israel in 1948, is among Israel’s prominent supporters in Europe. Despite recognizing “Palestinian self-determination”, the UK, like the US, has announced that it will vote against all resolutions on Palestine (under paragraph 7) at the HRC by pointing out that this agenda harming peace efforts in the Middle East.
Other major European states do not act very differently and usually refrain from major resolutions about Palestine. For example, European Union (EU) countries such as Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark did not support the recent resolution requesting an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and such countries did not support it. and Ireland, Belgium and Portugal voting in their favour.
The vote for UN Resolution 67/19, adopted in 2012, was crucial from another level to show the attitude of individual European states towards Palestine. This resolution upgraded Palestine’s status in the UN to that of a “non-member observer state”, previously known as an “observer entity”. States that did not support the resolution prioritized direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine based on a two-state solution. The following map shows how the countries voted.
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Today, 138 of the 193 member states of the UN recognize Palestine as a state, and Iceland and Sweden are the only countries in northwestern Europe that recognize Palestine. In terms of taking some practical action against Israel’s violations, Ireland stands out as a supporter of Palestinian rights among European states, a behavior attributed to the shared sense of historical struggles between the two countries. Ireland’s position is also reflected in its voting behavior on Palestinian resolutions.
Despite the opposition and abstention, the European Parliament has adopted a resolution that supports “in principle” the recognition of Palestinian statehood. Moreover, many national parliaments in Europe have urged their governments to recognize Palestine, although official recognition has not yet been given. Although the EU, like many other matters related to foreign policy, does not act as a political unity on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, it seeks to develop a common discourse as a permanent observer at the UNGA.
European countries opposing the resolutions regarding Palestine take a different position when human rights violations occur elsewhere. For example, these countries have taken a clear position regarding the intentions of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. They all voted in favor of resolutions such as investigating human rights violations in Ukraine and suspending Russia from the HRC. In the same way, Western states such as the UK and Germany – not to mention the US and Canada – have easily led and supported the inquiry requests into China’s human rights violations against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The same goes for the EU’s picky sanctions policy that Israel has never been exposed to, despite its criticized illegal settlements and other human rights violations. Irish MP Richard Boyd Barrett has tackled the EU’s double standards in tackling crimes against humanity well by citing the examples of Palestine and Ukraine.
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Western European selectivity regarding human rights is not only limited to the Palestinian situation but also has illustrations in the wider Arab Muslim countries. This was evident when Qatar hosted the 2022 World Cup, the first time in the 92-year history of the world’s biggest football tournament that it was hosted by a Muslim or Arab country. Many Western countries and media have exerted themselves without precedent to create a very negative image of the host country based on human rights issues, which the Arab League has described as a smear campaign against Qatar.
Political and ideological interests can shape how governments identify and position human rights issues. In this sense, most reactions to the Israeli occupation and the killing of Palestinians were not much different. However, the conflict between Israel and Palestine stands out as a crucial example to illustrate the contradictory positions and discourses of European actors, which hinder human rights issues in selected places and topics, while at the same time ignoring people another. To counter this hypocrisy, additional pressure at the bilateral and international level is necessary, especially for Palestinian rights.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.