AJIRI #61: The Hamas Resolution

December 2018

On December 6, 2018 the UN General Assembly took a very unusual step: it voted on a pro-Israel resolution. What is more, a majority of the votes cast, 60.4%, were cast for the resolution. Those unfriendly to Israel have minimized this reality because the resolution did not get the support of 66.7%, a two-thirds majority, but that does not change the reality that the votes on the resolution were 87 for and 57 against. It is a significant step forward.

The Text of the Resolution

The resolution, sponsored by the United States, condemned Hamas for repeatedly firing rockets into Israel and for inciting violence, for constructing tunnels to infiltrate Israel and equipment to launch rockets into civilian areas. It demanded that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad cease all provocative actions and violent activity, including the use of airborne incendiary devices. It welcomed and urged further engagement by the United Nations in efforts to de-escalate the situation.

The Voting Rules under the Charter

Under the UN Charter resolutions will normally be made by “a majority of members present and voting.” But decisions on “important questions shall be made by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting.” The Charter provides that important questions “shall include: recommendations with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security the election of non-permanent members of the Security Council, … the Admission of new Members of the United Nations, the expulsion of Members, … and budgetary questions.” To be sure, the General Assembly has the power to add other resolutions to this list, but it is clear that the intent of the drafters was to treat as “important” resolutions that have operational consequences.

It is also clear that the drafters of the Charter did not intend to have resolutions that have no operational consequences, that are mere declarations of sentiments, to be treated as “important.” A review of the U.S.-sponsored Hamas resolution makes it clear that like many other resolutions adopted by the United Nations, it does not have operational consequences. It is a declaration of disapproval of Hamas behavior in Gaza. But that did not stop Kuwait (acting for the Arab League) and Bolivia (led by an old-line Communist government) from introducing a motion to declare the U.S. draft resolution on Hamas “important.”

The Votes Cast on the Hamas Resolution and its Immediate Predecessor

The motion to declare the U.S.-sponsored Hamas resolution “important” was adopted by a vote of 75 to 72. The Yes votes were thus 51% of the total number of votes cast. It is interesting to note that 15 states that ultimately voted for the U.S. resolution voted for the motion to, in effect, defeat it or abstained. Those voting for the Kuwait/Bolivia motion, thus against the U.S. position, but then voted for the U.S. resolution were Argentina, Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Guatemala, Japan, and Malta. How can such contradictory voting behavior be explained? What may have been the case in a good many settings is that the ambassador received instructions from his government to vote for the U.S. resolution, but had no instructions on the Kuwaiti motion that was offered just as the voting started. The ambassador decided to cast his vote on the basis of his own outlook rather than that of his government. One of the sad realities of the UN system is that an anti-Israel culture exists there that tends to infect diplomats once they arrive at their UN posting. The outlook of these diplomats often does not reflect the policies of their governments.

Guatemala is a perfect example of this problem. It is clear that President Morales of Guatemala would not have approved a Yes vote on the Kuwait/Bolivia motion. In fact, Guatemala has gone, since the vote, on record stating that its intent was to vote No on that motion.

The Washington Post headline on this story, in its December 7, 2018 issue, reads “Resolution condemning Hamas fails at the United Nations in setback for Israel and the Trump administration.” As noted, it was not a setback: a majority of 60% voted for a UN General Assembly resolution that condemned Hamas’s provocative actions and violent activity.

Analysis of the Vote on the Hamas Resolution

There is little doubt that this significant change in voting habits of UN member states came about as a result of a vigorous campaign by the United States Government, led by Ambassador Haley. It suggests that continuing efforts along these lines can help return the UN to its original objective: to advance the cause of international peace and security.

A detailed analysis of the voting pattern demonstrates that the UN divided on this resolution, as it does on many others, along regional lines. The membership of the UN has divided itself into five regional groups, the Africa Group, the Asian and Pacific Group, the East European Group, the Latin American and Caribbean Group, and the West European and Others Group.

As the tabulation below shows, the U.S.-sponsored Hamas resolution had overwhelming support in three of the UN’s geographic groups: East European, Latin American and Caribbean, and West European and Others. As the 12 Pacific Island states form a truly separate region that differs so fundamentally, as a group, from the great majority of Asia-Pacific states, they have here been listed separately.

What is truly striking is that the work done by the United States Mission to the UN in reaching out to the European Union was extremely successful. It resulted in all but one of the members of the West European and Others Group voting Yes on the U.S. resolution. The dissenting vote is not surprising. It was cast by Turkey. The European Union had a similar effect on the East European Group. There were three dissenters there: Russia, Belarus, and Azerbaijan. Russia’s vote may be connected with its disagreement with Israel in Syria. Belarus follows Russia’s lead. Azerbaijan follows the line of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

A third regional group in which USUN was very effective was the group on our continent. Of the 19 Latin American states, the only ones to vote No were the Old-line Communist states of Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Of the 14 Caribbean states, only Suriname, known to be anti-U.S., voted No. What is interesting to note is that Ecuador, another state in the Old-line Communist camp, abstained, suggesting that it may be undergoing a basic change in its position.

As for Asia: U.S. bilateral relations with most Asian states are not so close as to expect large-scale support of the U.S. position on a controversial pro-Israel resolution based on friendly relations with the U.S. It needs to be noted that 11 Asian states belong to the Arab League and another 11 non-Arab states are majority-Moslem and are members of the OIC. To be sure, not all Asian OIC members voted No, but China, Laos, and Vietnam made up for that by being among the No votes. Those states with which the U.S. has very close bilateral relations did vote Yes: Japan, South Korea, and Cyprus. A surprising addition was Singapore. Among the abstentions the vote of India was especially noteworthy.  In the past India has tended to vote against U.S. positions on Israel.

As noted earlier, this memorandum deals separately with the 12 Pacific Islands states, 9 of which voted Yes, with 3 abstaining. There were no No votes. The Pacific Islands states, genuine democracies, are culturally close to the United States. It should be possible to get all 12 states to vote with the United States.

A major region in which it should be possible to get greater support for the U.S. position is Africa. The 54 member states of the African Group contain 10 members of the Arab League, which understandably voted against the U.S. resolution. But among the remaining 44 votes, only a minority, 15 states, voted No, while 29 voted Yes, or abstained or were absent. The Yes votes were cast by Cape Verde, Eritrea, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Rwanda, and South Sudan, states located across the Eastern, Western, and Southern parts of the African continent. Many of the African states receive substantial U.S. foreign assistance, much of it allocated to health services and agricultural development.

China, to be sure, is trying hard to gain influence in Africa, largely through infrastructure development. The U.S. could appropriately urge that the more valuable help provided by the United States should be given serious consideration by the recipients of this help.

A Possible Sequel: The Relationship between the Hamas Vote and future Votes on “Important” anti-Israel Resolutions

As distinct from the Hamas resolution, the key anti-Israel resolutions, those that extend the mandates and funding authorizations of the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) and the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR) are “important” under the provisions of the UN Charter in that they deal with budgetary questions. To defeat these resolutions it is necessary to obtain the No votes of one-third+1 of the votes cast. This could be accomplished if the anti-Israel Hamas vote, 57, would not increase more than 50% on CEIRPP and DPR and the pro-Israel Hamas vote, 87, would not decrease more than 50%.

Regional Breakdown of UNGA vote on Hamas Resolution of December 6, 2018

Total States
African Group
Asian Group
Less Pacific Island States
East European Group
Pacific Island States
Total Votes