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Israel abstains on UN vote against Russia over Ukraine war

The Kremlin and the White House are both waiting to see if Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu will shift Israel’s policy on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Members of the United Nations General Assembly vote on a draft resolution during a special session in the General Assembly Hall, UN headquarters, New York, Nov. 14, 2022.

Israel was the only Western country to abstain Nov. 14 in a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) vote against Russia. Ninety-four countries voted in favor of the nonbinding resolution supporting a mechanism for Russia to pay reparations for invading Ukraine, 14 countries voted against and 73 abstained. Apart from Israel, among the countries abstaining were India, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the vote. At the first UN vote following the Russian invasion of Ukraine Feb. 24, Israel abstained, but on other votes on Ukraine Israel voted together with the United States and European countries in support of Ukraine. Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid has noted on several occasions that Israel must be "on the right side of history," condemning the Russian invasion. Still, both Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz had reiterated several times the Israeli position of assisting Kyiv with defense equipment only, not with Iron Dome anti-missile batteries or weapons.

On Nov. 14, Israeli media claimed that Jerusalem’s decision to abstain from voting came as revenge, days after Kyiv voted to advance an anti-Israel resolution also at the UNGA. Jerusalem expressed in recent days disappointment over Kyiv’s support of the Nov. 11 resolution by the UN General Assembly Fourth Committee, to request that the International Court of Justice “render urgently an advisory opinion” on Israel’s “prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of Palestinian territory.” Israel’s Foreign Ministry confirmed Nov. 15 that the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel was summoned, following the Ukrainian Nov. 11 vote. Jerusalem expressed to the ambassador its dissatisfaction, especially on the backdrop of Israel's large humanitarian assistance to Kyiv.

Realizing Jerusalem’s anger, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s close aide Oleksiy Arestovych said already on Nov. 13 that Kyiv’s support of a UN resolution against Israel was “a grave mistake.” He continued, “Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry’s position was illogical and unacceptable. We’re teaming up with Russia and Iran that are attacking us, and distancing ourselves from Israel — which we want as an ally. Ukraine must at least abstain from such votes.”

Sources at the Foreign Ministry claimed that the decision to abstain Nov. 14 was taken a week ago, ahead of the Nov. 11 vote. Still, it is difficult to dissociate the Nov. 14 vote with events in Israel, namely the electoral win of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who had nurtured a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his mandates.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, Netanyahu was careful not to openly criticize Moscow. In the last weeks of the electoral campaign, Netanyahu was a bit blunter, saying he would consider Kyiv’s repeated requests for military equipment, if nominated prime minister. That could explain why Putin has not congratulated to date Netanyahu on his election victory. That being said, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said earlier this week, “We definitely value constructive relations with our Israeli partners. It is certainly important for us to see people at the helm of Israel and the government, who share a common approach toward further developing bilateral relations.”

Moscow, Washington and Kyiv are now waiting to see which policy Netanyahu will adopt. Analysts note that Russian media outlets had followed up very closely on the Israeli Nov. 1 elections.

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