The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, praised President Goodluck Jonathan Wednesday, after Nigeria pulled a last-minute surprise that helped thwart a resolution calling for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory by 2017.
The resolution, presented to the United Nations for approval, called for new talks based on territorial lines that existed before Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in 1967.
The proposal was the culmination of three months of campaigning by the Palestinians at the UN, and was backed by 22 envoys from Arab states.
The Palestinians required nine votes from 15 permanent and non-permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Nigeria is currently one the 10 non-permanent members, with its tenure expiring in 2015. Chad and Rwanda are the other African members.
But Palestine received eight votes, short of one, during the vote which took place 11pm Nigerian time.
The United States and Australia voted against the resolution, while Russia, China, France, Luxembourg, Jordan, Argentina, Chile and Chad voted for the resolution.
Nigeria, Britain, South Korea, Rwanda and Lithuania abstained.
Nigeria’s role stood out because until shortly before the vote, diplomats had expected the resolution to get nine “yes” votes, with Nigeria believed to be in support.
But at the last minute, Nigeria’s envoy, Joy Ogwu, abstained from voting, echoing the position of the United States that the ultimate path to peace between Israel and Palestine lies “in a negotiated solution”.
Regardless of whether Palestine received nine votes, the resolution still stood no chance as U.S. would have deployed its veto powers as a permanent member to block it.
But analysts believe the U.S. sought to avoid that scenario as it would have angered Arab allies who are currently supporting a US-led international coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS.
To save the U.S. from that awkward position, its Secretary of States, John Kerry, reached out to Nigeria to help block the move, the Times of Israel reported.
After the vote, U.S. envoy, Samantha Power, said “We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo. We voted against it because… peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table.”
The Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, also said he personally spoke to President Jonathan and received his assurance of support.
“I would like to voice appreciation and thanks to the United States and Australia, and also special appreciation for the president of Rwanda, my friend Paul Kagame, and the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan. I spoke with both of them. They told me and promised me, personally, that they would not support this resolution. They kept their word, and that’s what clinched this matter. I think this is very important for the state of Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu said.
Some Israeli media hailed the cordial relations between Mr. Jonathan and Mr. Netanyauhu, with the Times of Israel recalling how President Jonathan visited Israel during his last pilgrimage with a 20-member delegation, and how Mr. Netanyahu condoled with Nigeria after the Kano Mosque blast that killed more than 100 people.
Nigeria’s position on the complex Israel and Palestine issue has been that of neutrality for years, in the belief that any decision must be attained through negotiations.
Nigeria has maintained that policy in what analysts believe is informed by the government’s sensitivity to many factors including, not wanting to be seen as supporting Palestine’s Hamas, or opposing the United States.
A major factor also is the religious angle back home, with many Nigerian Muslims supporting Palestine, while there is also the Christianity affiliation between Nigeria and Israel.