NEW YORK – With the new administration in the White House and Ambassador Nikki Haley representing the United States at the UN, Israel now has “an opening” for change at the international body, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
In her first press briefing on January 27, Haley strongly denounced the Security Council’s bias against Israel and vowed that the US would no longer turn a blind eye to it. A video of her speech went viral online.
According to Danon, many at the UN were caught by surprise by the results of the US presidential election and still are uncertain what approach the new administration will take with the UN.
“I think the approach of Ambassador Haley is the right approach. It’s not a given that the UN will deal with anti-Israel propaganda 24/7, and it’s not a given that the Security Council will spend so much energy and time on Israel,” he said. “I think people are not used to it, but they are starting to understand that maybe there is a new era now at the UN.”
Danon told the Post
that he and Haley have already “worked on some issues” in the past month.
“I think we have a lot in common and I’m very optimistic that we can actually make some changes at the UN,” he explained. “People are very skeptical about that, but I think it is possible.”
Beyond the new US ambassador, Danon noted another positive change at the institution: the appointment of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who in his first month in office already spoke out against antisemitism on numerous occasions.
“I told him when I met him that we hope he will stay objective regarding Israel,” Danon said. “We don’t want him to support Israel or do us any favors, but if he will stay objective, it will be very important for us. I think he is knowledgeable, he was the prime minister of Portugal, he knows the issues.”
Nevertheless, Danon’s main challenge remains the same: trying to convince member states to abandon old habits and change their pattern of voting on Israel, particularly at the Security Council.
“Sometimes we are successful, but it’s very hard,” he explained. “I always speak about the gap between the private UN and the public UN, where privately people support Israel, but my challenge is to make that support becomes public.”
Danon added with a smile, “In my position you have to be optimistic every morning in order to survive.”
This new-found hope is a breath of fresh air for Danon, who faced his biggest challenge in the last days of Barack Obama’s presidency with the passage of the infamous Security Council Resolution 2334 that condemned Israeli settlement activity.
“Even if you don’t agree with your partner, you should tell him: ‘I don’t agree with you, I will support this resolution, I will abstain.’ But until the last minute, we didn’t get an answer,” he explained. “There is usually a possibility of engagement. We tell our American friends what we think about it, they change some of the things, they try to change other things. But this time there was no engagement. That’s why the resolution is so one-sided.”
The settlements, or “the Jewish community in Judea and Samaria,” as Danon prefers to call them, was the main point of friction between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government over the last eight years. While the Obama administration considered settlements to be the main obstacle to peace, Israel maintains that they are not the root of the problem, but rather the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to negotiate and to recognize Israel as home of the Jewish people.
During their first meeting at the White House in February, the issue came up again when Trump asked Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
“It was a very good meeting,” Danon said. “When you have a first meeting between two leaders, you need to build trust. That’s something we saw was established.” Even on that sore subject Danon felt Trump’s comment had “a different music” to it.
Regarding whether the two-state solution is still a priority for Israel and the US, Danon only pointed out: “I think the main message coming from the White House was that both sides need to sit down and negotiate and not go to the Security Council for another resolution, not going to international accords, not expecting the world to impose peace.
“That’s something that today the Palestinians are avoiding. They want to actually know the outcome of the negotiations, but it doesn’t work that way. When you go buy an apartment and you negotiate the price, you don’t say ‘OK, I’m coming to negotiate with the owner of the apartment, but I need to know before I come what will be the final price.’”
However, the idea of a “one-state solution,” Danon believes, is an unrealistic exaggeration.
“I’m not in the Knesset or the government anymore, but I still have a lot of friends there and I follow Israel’s democracy. I haven’t heard any major parts of our democracy calling for one state, saying we should apply citizenship and annex all of Judea and Samaria completely.
“I think it is being used as a threat, that if we won’t accept the conditions immediately, if we don’t sign an agreement now without negotiating, without making sure that the security needs are being met, we will find ourselves with one state,” he said. “It has been used by the Left in Israel for many years.”
So far, Danon said he believes Trump’s approach to the Middle East is “the right one.” He also thanked Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for their response to the latest wave of antisemitism in the US, which some attribute to the president’s rhetoric since the campaign.
“The incidents are very serious and shocking, I would even say. We cannot ignore it. It is scary. I think the words of the administration and the president were very important and I’m sure the authorities will deal with that and make sure they will arrest the people who are doing it,” he said.
“For us, when we see signs of antisemitism, no matter where it is taking place, it’s something we will not be quiet about. For us, I think [Trump] made an important statement. Now we expect and we are sure that the justice system in the US will be active on this.”
As he tells his staff at their weekly meetings, Danon plans to continue to act both on defense and offense this year as he did last year. In terms of defense, the Israeli mission will continue to speak out against anti-Israel bias and antisemitism expressed at the UN.
In addition, it will have to fight against the international body’s intention to put together a blacklist of Israeli and international companies operating in Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank by the end of 2017, which the ambassador called “disgraceful.”
As part of its offense, the mission will hold its second anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions summit at the UN in the coming months. It will also continue to engage in what Danon calls “self-diplomacy” to “show the real face of Israel,” with cultural and technology events presenting different aspects of the country. “It is very effective,” he said. “It adds up.”
This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, which Danon expects to also be a time of conflict. “I’m sure that our adversaries will plan events with different titles, like ‘50 years of occupation,’” he said. “We are fighting about the narrative. That’s what we do.”