On 3 December 2019, 11 European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, broke away from existing European consensus and voted against a resolution at the United Nations, renewing the mandate of the United Nation's Division of Palestinian Rights.
The agency, which operates within the UN Secretariat, is primarily concerned with both the monitoring and evaluation of developments on the ground and with organising international meetings and conferences pertaining to salient issue areas concerning Palestine. The agency also organises the annual observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, on 29 November, and helps to develop and maintain the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL).
The decision made by the European countries to vote against the renewal of the agency's mandate comes against the backdrop of increasing attacks from European countries towards the 'sui generis status' afforded to the Palestinian issue at the United Nations. These attacks – underscored by the major EU policy reversal vis-à-vis the United Nations Human Rights Council vote against Item 7 in March of this year – have been accelerated in recent months, due to increased efforts by Israel's Foreign Ministry to lobby influential European powerbrokers, such as Germany and the Czech Republic.
Commenting on the policy reversal of European states, Yinam Cohen, the Director of the UN Political Affairs Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel, notes the significance of the Foreign Ministry's efforts in pushing for this change. He highlights that the Foreign Ministry's reach "to the highest authorities" in countries across the world, played a key role in precipitating the shift in EU position, regarding Israel at the UN.
While Cohen praises the efforts of EU countries in this regard, individuals at the forefront of the discourse on the Palestine issue have sought to challenge the rationale behind the growing EU policy reversal. One individual engaged in this process is British-Palestinian journalist and chairman of EuroPal Forum, Zaher Birawi. Birawi, who has written directly to the foreign ministries of European countries that have shifted their position, is seeking to obtain answers as to why Europe has decided to adopt this position, at what is a crucial time for the Palestinian issue.
Birawi affirms that "it is no surprise that Germany and the Czech Republic have been instrumental in this policy reversal, which is an obvious success for Israel's Foreign Ministry insofar as it represents the tangible realisation of their efforts in Europe."
He continues by pointing out that the policy reversal witnessed throughout 2019 "sounds the alarm bells for those working for the Palestinian cause, and indicates the absence of Palestinian diplomacy and agency in influencing European countries and the narrative across the continent." Birawi advises that to bridge this gap "there must be considerable efforts in diplomacy at both the official and public level, and more must be invested in empowering public diplomacy and NGOs that can fill the vacuum left by the absence of state diplomacy." This process has to be supplemented by the "unification of Palestinian actors – both those at the political and societal level – in a conscious effort to stop the negative escalation of anti-Palestine voting in the UN."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.