The failure of a United Nations resolution condemning Hamas for indiscriminately firing rockets at Israel showed the limits of Israeli and American diplomacy.
While UN Ambassador Danny Danon praised the countries that had voted to condemn the terrorist Group, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lambasted countries that refused to vote for the resolution, calling it a "disgraceful act of bias" against Israel, the voting pattern was itself significant.
The 87 countries who voted for the resolution were mostly concentrated in Europe, the Americas and the Pacific. The US and Israel failed to gain votes in the Middle East and among most Muslim countries, despite the fact that many of these countries condemn the kind of terrorism Hamas represents.
In recent months Israel has made inroads in the region and in Africa with a high-profile visit to Oman by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a trip by Chad's president to Israel. Oman both voted against condemning Hamas. A map of the countries that voted against the resolution shows that in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia there is an unwillingness to vote against Hamas. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said "we can't talk about peace in the Middle East until we can agree on a basic condemnation of Hamas and its terrorism." The UN had an opportunity to do that, and it failed, she tweeted.
The unwillingness of countries to confront Hamas stemmed from the Palestinian Liberation Organization's support for a requirement that two-thirds of the General Assembly vote for the resolution for it to pass. The PLO and the Palestinian Authority both praised the resolution's failure, according to CNN. This is despite the fact that the PA has opposed Hamas and has even sought to block payments by Qatar to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. A $15 million payment from Qatar was transferred to Gaza in the first week of December, the second installment of a $90m. donation from the emirate.
For many decades there was an automatic block at the UN in favor of condemning Israel and supporting the Palestinians. However cleavages have grown in that wall over the years, first with Israel's peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and then with its warming relations with some countries in the region in the 1990s.
In recent years there has also been a growing break between many Sunni Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, and Iran on the one hand and also Qatar and Turkey on the other. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia and its allies in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain broke relations with Qatar. Riyadh accused Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and extremism, including Hamas and Hezbollah. Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh even called Hamas a terrorist group in August 2017.
Many countries in the Middle East and Africa have increasingly played an important role in the fight against extremism in recent years. This includes fighting groups that use the kind of terrorism that Hamas has used. In addition states like Egypt have cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, which has ties to Hamas. Yet when it comes to condemning Hamas at the UN, these states, with backing from the Arab League and PLO, see condemning Hamas as a condemnation of Palestinians. A defeat for the Palestinians at the UN would be a major historic event.
The US resolution debated on Thursday went beyond condemning Hamas, it also called on "other militant actors including Palestinian Islamic Jihad [to] cease all provocative actions and violent activity, including by using airborne incendiary devices." Yet the US was unable to convince regional allies, such as Riyadh, to support the resolution. Washington had also failed in June during an attempt to add an amendment to a resolution condemning Israel. The US wanted to condemn Hamas as well. The amendment got a slight majority of 62-58 with 41 abstentions but, like the December 6 vote, did not pass.
The time is not right in the region for states to begin breaking with each other on the Palestinian issue at the UN. The UAE's The National noted that the US resolution "is likely to add to tension over the current lack of progress toward peace between Israel and Palestinians." However the US did make progress from its June failure with 87 in favor, 57 against and 33 abstentions.
In Africa the condemnation of Hamas didn't make much inroads. Most countries either voted against or abstained. Cape Verde, Uganda, Liberia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Rwanda and Malawi supported the resolution. In Asia, Azerbaijan, which has had high-level visits to and from Israel this year, voted against. India, which Netanyahu visited in January, abstained. China and Russia both voted against the resolution. Afghanistan, a key US ally, abstained.
The overall analysis of the vote shows that while the US was able to gain support for the resolution that it cannot make the necessary inroads in the Middle East or among the Arab League and other important blocks, such as those that make up the non-aligned movement in Africa and Asia. Even US allies such as Saudi Arabia that are ostensibly outspoken against Hamas and extremism, have not changed their stance on UN voting. Unwillingness to appear to side with Israel is still an issue that unites countries that disagree on much else.
Seth Frantzman is The Jerusalem Post's op-ed editor, a Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.