Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs defended its decision to withdraw a UN motion condemning the ongoing building of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Rebuking criticism that Egypt had succumbed to pressure, ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid asserted that the decision was to delay the resolution until a time when it would be more likely to pass.
After Egypt’s withdrawal of the motion on Friday, four countries — New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela — submitted the motion again before it was approved with majority voting in the Security Council, except for the United States which unusually did not veto the resolution but abstained.
The withdrawal came after US President-elect Donald Trump called President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who ordered the Egyptian delegation to delay the voting on the motion, which Egypt had submitted to the Security Council on Wednesday.
In response to the harsh criticism directed against Egypt’s position, Abu Zeid said in a statement on Saturday that Egypt’s decision to delay the voting on the motion was out of fear that the United State would veto the resolution, especially given that Trump had declared he would request this from the current US administration.
“In light of the continued possibilities that the motion would be vetoed, and the insistence of the Palestinians and other countries to immediately vote on it despite the risks, Egypt decided to withdraw the draft motion to give more time to make sure that the resolution would not be vetoed,” the statement said.
Given that the resolution was ultimately passed, Egypt’s approach to buy time was vindicated he suggested.
Abu Zeid added that Egypt is a main partner in negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis in coordination with the new US administration, so “it was important [for Egypt] to keep the required balance in its position to guarantee the freedom of its movement and its ability to affect both sides in future negotiations in order to reach a complete and fair resolution that would guarantee all Palestinian rights based on legitimate international decisions.”
The ministry’s statement could be indirectly referring to Israel’s diplomatic moves against the countries that adopted the motion on Friday. The Israeli prime minister’s Arab media spokesperson Ofir Gendelman wrote in a post on his Facebook page on Friday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called back the country’s ambassadors in New Zealand and Senegal to Israel for talks.
According to Gendelman, the Israeli government also canceled a visit by the Senegal’s foreign minister which was scheduled to take place in three weeks, in addition to canceling Israel’s aid programs to the country. He also called for the end of the visits of Israeli ambassadors to Senegal and New Zealand, who because they do not live in those countries, conduct their diplomatic business on visits.
“These steps are taken against the countries that adopted the UN motion and enjoy diplomatic relations with Israel,” Gendelman wrote.
As described in a report in Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the resolution was milder than versions presented by the Palestinian government in the past two weeks. An amended version of the Palestinian proposals, Egypt’s motion focused on pushing the Security Council to demand the immediate halt of construction in settlements, and to reassert that Israel’s presence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is an occupation, that its parameters are limited to its pre-1967-war borders and, most importantly, to request that member states differentiate between Israeli land and occupied Palestinian land.
The passing of the resolution is significant because the United States has historically used its power of veto to block criticism of Israel in the UN security council. However the resolution has also come in for criticism as its language is less strong than anti-settlement resolutions previously passed and because it calls for the halt to the construction of settlements not the dismantling of already existing settlements.