Why a “no” vote on the Gaza resolution was too risky for Germany

While war rages in the Middle East and Israel advances ever further into the Gaza Strip to destroy the terrorist group following the brutal attack by Hamas, which cost the lives of more than 1,300 Israelis, Germany is causing a stir at the UN General Assembly. The abstention of Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) on a resolution on a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip is highly controversial. But how did it happen?

On October 27th of this year, almost a week ago, something was brewing. After the breaking news “Germany abstains from Gaza resolution,” a wave of outrage quickly built up. In order to stem the tide of criticism, the Foreign Office in Berlin published a written statement from the Green Foreign Minister shortly after the vote in the UN General Assembly in New York. It says:

“We were able to ensure that important points were included, such as a clear condemnation of all acts of terrorism and at least a call for the release of the hostages.” It goes on to say: “Because the resolution does not clearly name Hamas terror, it does not clearly call for the release of all hostages “Demands enough and does not affirm Israel’s right to self-defense, we and many of our European partners decided not to agree to the resolution in the end.”

Chmiel on Baerbock: “I’m disappointed by Germany’s abstention”

But Baerbock’s words are not enough. Criticism comes from all sides. The Frankfurter Rundschau headlines: “It was a shameful spectacle, shabby, simply unbearable.” Other media outlets are similarly harsh on the decision. Yehoshua Chmiel, Vice President of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, also sharply criticized Baerbock’s abstention from the UN resolution to FOCUS online on Friday in Munich on the sidelines of a memorial event for the Hamas hostages.

Chmiel explained: “I had the opportunity to get to know Ms. Baerbock personally twice and actually got to know her as a very likeable and a very eloquent and convincing woman. The greater my disappointment at what took place and it is completely inexplicable to me. Diplomacy is a very valuable asset and you have to be good at it, but in the end you also have to be able to show the limits of diplomacy and abstention was not about pointing out a limit, but about giving in to something. And I personally was very disappointed. A large part of my community, my community as well,” said the 68-year-old.

Chmiel makes no secret of his disappointment. For him, the question “to what extent the state of Israel and we Jews in Germany are reasons of state remains a very hypothetical question.”

The complex process of German decision-making

For many, the abstention casts a diffuse light on the statements made by Foreign Minister and Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who emphasize at every opportunity that Israel’s security is German raison d’être. Then why not take a clear stance on the Gaza resolution, they complain. One “Mirror“Research now shows how complex the process that led to the resolution was and that there was no easy way out. Every possible decision carried significant political risks for the federal government.

The controversial German decision was initially preceded by four resolutions on Hamas terror in the Security Council, all of which failed. Finally, the General Assembly should provide clarity, whose decisions are not legally binding like those of the Security Council, but are considered a strong political signal because of the two-thirds majority required.

Jordan’s draft falls short of German expectations

According to the report, a first draft resolution from the Jordanians was received by the German UN representation on Tuesday evening. Because of the political explosiveness of the Middle East crisis, this was presented in Berlin so that the diplomats in New York can act on the instructions of the federal government and no communication errors are made. However, the Jordanian draft does not meet German expectations at this point.

The three key points that Berlin is pushing for are not included:

  • the release of the hostages,
  • the condemnation of Hamas
  • Israel’s right to self-defense

Instead, point one calls for an immediate ceasefire. This negates Israel’s right to self-defense.

Berlin then said: If this draft remains, Germany will vote no.

The Canadian amendment

While the EU states are now working on suggestions for improvements to the Jordanian resolution, the Canadians are introducing a three-line “amendment” on behalf of 35 UN member states, including Germany. The additional motion contains only two demands that the Israelis are also pushing for: the condemnation of Hamas and the release of the hostages.

At the same time, the Jordanians also presented a new version. From a German perspective, it is significantly better than the first version. It blames the “October 7 attack” for the escalation of violence in the Middle East. However, there is still no clear reference to the terrorist organization Hamas. According to Spiegel, the word “hostages” does not appear in the text; instead, the unconditional release of all “civilians” who are “illegally held” is called for.

A diplomatic tug of war over words, formulations and partners finally begins in New York. On Friday, the day of the vote in the UN General Assembly, draft resolutions will be sent back and forth and wording will be checked and adjusted, it is said. In the end there is the Jordanians’ resolution, which has been revised several times – and Germany has to decide.

Starting position for Germany before the vote

Scholz and Baerbock are on the phone. A “yes” is out of the question. There is a lot at stake in foreign policy. The starting position for Germany before the vote is as follows:

Jordan is a close ally of the Federal Republic. Without this partner, a solution to the Middle East conflict would hardly be possible. If Germany rejects the Jordanians’ resolution, it is duping an ally.

In addition, with a no vote, Germany would lose the entire Arab world and width Parts of the Global South antagonize yourself. Countries that the Chancellor has placed at the center of his foreign policy. Scholz relies on cooperation “at eye level”.

Domestic policy Abstention, on the other hand, would be problematic. The result would be outrage among the German public, in the media, but also among the political opposition and even among partners.

So it is important to weigh up which price is higher, domestic or foreign policy?

Pakistan is putting Germany in trouble

Shortly before the vote, however, Pakistan spoke up and announced that if the Canadian amendment was successful, it would introduce its own, “Spiegel” reports. It is intended to condemn Israel harshly and unilaterally. A diplomatic move that puts Germany in trouble.

Since it is relatively certain that Pakistan could easily find a majority for its proposal and that both the Canadian and Pakistani amendments would become part of the Jordanian resolution, Germany would ultimately be forced to vote “no” because of the condemnation of Israel contained therein.

Scholz and Baerbock seem to have assessed the domestic political dispute as more calculable, says “Spiegel”. The Canadian amendment ultimately narrowly missed a majority. 55 states voted against it. The Pakistani initiative is therefore off the table. Good for Germany. With 14 votes against, 120 votes in favor and 45 abstentions, including Germany, the Jordanian resolution finally achieved a two-thirds majority.

Scholz and Baerbock considered the domestic political dispute to be more calculable and decided accordingly. But it is said that not only the SPD and the Greens were involved in the decision. Foreign State Secretary Thomas Bagger had previously written and reported to his counterpart Steffen Saebisch from the FDP. Messages went back and forth. According to the report, the Foreign Office later said that FDP Minister Christian Lindner’s confidant did not raise any objection to the planned abstention.

Jean Harris

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