Following a US-backed Israeli filibuster that lasted almost four hours, the Palestinian delegation and other Arab states failed Thursday in passing a resolution denouncing Israel during the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s 39th General Conference in Paris.
Discussion at UNESCO's education committee was slated to commence at 3 pm, with the expectation being the measure would be approved within minutes by general consensus and without going to a vote, as has been the case in the organization since 2009.
The resolution deal with denouncing Israel over the state of education in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. The Palestinian delegation clearly had a majority to pass the resolution, and the Israeli mission to UNESCO therefore forwent any attempt to drum up votes from countries to vote alongside it.
Instead, Israel—with American support—endeavored to make us of every conceivable article in UNESCO regulations to stall for time, for example by asking for a roll-call vote of all of the organization's 196 member countries.
When the session opened, the Kenyan chairman presiding said the resolution was to be approved with neither debate nor a vote. While Israel and the US were not permitted to vote, as they have failed to pay their membership dues to the organization for the past six years, regulations still stipulate they are entitled to seek a stay in passing the resolution until the next general conference, in two years' time. When Arab countries voiced their objections, Israel moved to a vote on each of the resolution's 11 articles.
The committee's chairman and other representatives were certain the vote would be conducted with a show of hands, in which case it would have concluded with a resounding Palestinian victory, but Israel persisted in its sabotaging efforts and asked for a roll-call vote, a request necessitating the support of one other country. The US lent its support to the Israeli request, and a vote commenced that lasted more than an hour with one country voting after another.
After the roll-call, Israel objected to the Palestinian request to not hold a discussion but instead move immediately to approving the resolution, once again operating an article in the regulations and seeking another roll-call vote on not debating the resolution.
The second roll-call vote lasted more than an hour once again and the representatives of the countries participating in the debate started showing signs of nervousness as they session was to conclude at 6 pm with many of them setting appointments and expecting to attend receptions afterwards.
At some point, the deputy Palestinian envoy to UNESCO lost his cool. Along with his Arab compatriots, he appealed to the Kenyan chairman and stressed him to block the Israeli-American filibuster. "The Israeli envoy is trying to take this plenum hostage. Don't let him get away with this," he exhorted.
All told, the various votes lasted until 7 pm with several surprises noted during the proceedings, such as China abstaining on the vote on the Israeli postponement request, marking the first time the Communist juggernaut did not automatically support the Palestinians.
Mexico also voted in Israel's favor for the first time, instead of abstaining, with a possible reason being Israeli humanitarian efforts following the devastating earthquake to hit the country.
The Palestinians are expected to attempt to pass two additional anti-Israeli resolutions in the coming days. The resolutions will invariably eventually pass, but Israel has been adamant to send its message of protest to the international community.
"We have made it clear that the days are over when anti-Israel resolutions can be passed in five minutes. This obsession against Israel will come with a price tag. The organization and world countries will need to devote dozens of hours, to add additional days for debate and to sit through long sessions. Maybe then they will start wondering whether it is worth their time invested in resolutions that are political, aimless, and have nothing to do with education, culture or science," said Carmel Shama-Hacohen, Israel's envoy to UNESCO.