Georgia in a tight spot over UNGA Jerusalem vote
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 21 Dec.'17 / 15:28

On December 21, the United Nations General Assembly is holding an emergency special session on the December 6 decision by the United States administration to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and transfer the American embassy there. This will be a resumption of the 10th Emergency Special Session of the UNGA that is dedicated to the Palestinian territories and has been resumed a number of times since 1997, the last time in January 2009. 

The draft resolution to be discussed and voted on during the session is similar to the one vetoed by the U.S. at the U.N. Security Council on Monday, December 18. The other 14 members of the Security Council supported the draft resolution.

The draft resolution “affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and in this regard, calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem.”

It also “demands” that all states comply with the existing Security Council resolutions regarding Jerusalem.

Even though the UNGA resolutions are not binding, the U.S. is putting strong pressure on the U.N. member states to refrain from voting in support of this one. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley informed other states on December 19 that President Trump would be personally displeased with the ones that would vote in support of the draft resolution on December 21. “The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us. We will take note of each and every vote on this issue,” wrote Haley in a letter to dozens of U.N. members.

Haley reiterated the point on her own Twitter account, posting: “At the UN we are always asked to do more and give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American people, about where to locate OUR embassy, we do not expect those we have helped to target us. On Thursday there will be a vote criticizing our choice. The United States will be taking names.”

The situation is sensitive for Georgia, which recognized the statehood of Palestine back in 1992, and voted for the UNGA resolution upgrading Palestine to non-member observer state status in the United Nations in 2012.

Tbilisi will have to choose its position on the matter carefully. It cannot alienate the U.S., which is its main strategic partner and the only hope to somehow counter-balance Russia’s continuing aggressive actions. At the same time, it cannot afford to go against the numerous states that are expected to support the draft resolution, including the EU nations. Turkey, Georgia’s another partner, is aggressively against the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Relations with the Arab states, for whom the issue is very sensitive, are also important for Georgia. Tbilisi has its own interests to promote in the delicate diplomatic environment of the UNGA, which obliges it to tread carefully.

Jaba Devdariani, who headed the international organizations department at the Georgian Foreign Ministry in 2011-12, commented on the matter for, saying: "In multilateral diplomacy there are two major currencies - predictability of your actions, and loyalty to your partners. In practice this means that if one state plans to alter its course, the protocol suggests discussing it with partners. In the best case, you build coalitions. In the less good case - your allies will mitigate their losses. The U.S. chose to brazenly go alone with the Jerusalem decision. This puts Georgia in a tight spot of competing loyalty - the U.S. is the country’s strategic partner and a donor in the security field. But so is Turkey, which co-sponsors the resolution.

Georgia faces a problem of consistency as well - the country leans towards the Palestinian cause, and has consistently spoken for two-state solution, with the status of Jerusalem to be decided by negotiations. As a former diplomat, I would say the U.S. leaves Georgia no choice but to be absent during the vote. Tbilisi may pick another course only if the EU comes up with a joint stance."

Georgia chose not to attend during the previous vote at the 10th Emergency Special Session, on January 16, 2009, when the UNGA voted on the resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza strip. It is of note that the choice was different from the usual pattern of the Georgian UNGA voting regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue, when Georgia normally attends the votes on the draft resolutions in support of the Palestinians, either voting yes or abstaining.

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