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Germany’s objectives on Middle East resolutions at the United Nations

General Assembly of the United Nations in New York

General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, © picture alliance/Valery Sharifulin/TASS/dpa

03.12.2019 - Article

Germany seeks balanced texts of resolutions which are in the interest of lasting peace in the Middle East and works to prevent unfair treatment of Israel at the United Nations.

Middle East resolutions in the General Assembly

Every year, a number of resolutions dealing with various aspects of the Middle East conflict are negotiated and voted on in the United Nations General Assembly and its committees. In 2019, too, a total of 18 resolutions were negotiated under eight “agenda items”. These include, for example, the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) or the human rights situation in the occupied territories.

Usually the texts adopted in the previous year, with slight changes, form the basis for negotiation. Links to the texts of the 2018 resolutions can be found at the bottom of this page.

In assessing the draft texts of resolutions in terms of policy, the Federal Government is guided by the principles that have determined Germany’s policy on the Middle East for many years: the historical responsibility for the Jewish and democratic State of Israel and its right to exist, as well as efforts to bring about lasting peace in the Middle East in the context of a negotiated two-state solution.

Further information on Germany’s position on the Middle East conflict

EU’s coordinated negotiating and voting strategy

In negotiating and voting on Middle East resolutions, Germany coordinates closely with the other EU member states: for over 15 years, the EU member states have voted the same way on almost all resolutions.

Having a joint EU negotiating and voting strategy enables Germany and its partners in the EU to influence the drafting of the texts. Acting together in intensive negotiations with the Palestinian side, the European Union is regularly able to block decisions that are unbalanced vis-à-vis Israel, or to reject unacceptable formulations in resolutions for which there is anyway a majority in the General Assembly.

Following intense negotiations on the texts in keeping with the criteria outlined above, the EU member states have in recent years found themselves able to vote in favour of the majority of Middle East resolutions. These resolutions make it possible, for example, for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to provide urgently needed humanitarian assistance. At the same time, they underline the importance of a negotiated two-state solution and formulate the expectations that the parties to the conflict will contribute to a sustainable solution for peace.

Germany and the other EU member states (with a few exceptions) abstained on the following resolutions: “The Syrian Golan”, “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People” and “Work of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories”.

In 2019, for the first time, Germany voted against the resolution “Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat”, which reaffirms the establishment and mandate of the Division for Palestinian Rights at the United Nations Secretariat. In previous years Germany had abstained in the relevant vote. The EU member states’ voting on this resolution was not always uniform in the past. By voting “no” in 2019, Germany is expressing its criticism of the disproportionately large number of resolutions critical of Israel. In the Federal Foreign Office’s view, the Division for Palestinian Rights, in comparison to other regional divisions at the UN Secretariat, still has a special status which has no material basis.

Both bilaterally and in the EU framework, Germany and the other EU member states consistently call on the Palestinian delegation to cut the number of annual Middle East resolutions in the UN General Assembly. Although the total number was indeed reduced in 2019 – the resolutions “Applicability of the Geneva Convention” and “Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories” were combined – the 2019 package once again includes nearly 20 resolutions dealing exclusively with Palestinian issues. This, in Germany’s view, is still a disproportionately large number.

In the negotiations and votes, Germany’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York defends the positions determined by the Federal Government.

Against unfair and biased treatment of Israel

The Federal Government agrees with criticism that Israel is repeatedly inappropriately criticised, subject to bias and marginalised in UN bodies. This is especially true in the UN specialised agencies. At the same time, the United Nations is an indispensable forum for supporting the Middle East peace process and discussing the conflict.

Correspondingly, Germany works explicitly to combat any unfair treatment of Israel in the UN and to support Israel’s legitimate interests, also in the Security Council, of which Germany is currently a non-permanent member.

Similarly, on the UN Human Rights Council, the German Government is working continuously to reduce the number of resolutions relating to Israel (under agenda item 7: Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories).

In the UN specialised agencies, Germany opposes decisions and initiatives that specifically target Israel and thus inappropriately politicise the specialised agencies. In the WHO, Germany most recently voted against just such a resolution in 2019.

Germany also works to ensure that attacks against Israel are clearly identified as such and condemned. In the General Assembly last year, for example, Germany, Israel and the United States jointly sponsored a draft resolution condemning the terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas.

Furthermore, Germany is also trying to get the UN to look more closely at human rights violations in other countries in the region. On Syria, it proposed a resolution on the humanitarian situation in Idlib to the Security Council in September, which found broad support but was in the end vetoed by Russia and China. Furthermore, Germany regularly proposes a resolution on the human rights situation in Syria to the UN Human Rights Council (most recently in September 2019) and at the same time, through support for the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM), is committed to investigating war crimes in Syria. In the Third Committee of the General Assembly, Germany, like other European states, voted in favour of a resolution criticising the human rights situation in Syria.

Historical responsibility

In May 2019, Israel celebrated the 70th anniversary of its accession to the United Nations. Marking the occasion, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reaffirmed the Federal Government’s support for Israel within the UN:

Germany’s historic responsibility for the Jewish and democratic State of Israel and its security is part of our national ethos. Germany will always work, including in the UN, to ensure that Israel’s right to exist is never called into question.

The Permanent Mission in New York also issued a declaration on behalf of the Federal Government to mark the Occasion.

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