United States Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Nikki Haley speaks in front of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner during a meeting of the UN Security Council at UN headquarters in New York, U.S., February 20, 2018. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At first blush, something seemed out of place in the three-sentence readout the Prime Minister’s Office published last Wednesday about a telephone conversation the night before between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump.
Sandwiched between one sentence saying that the two spoke about regional developments and Iran, and another stating that the two leaders agreed to continue close coordination to keep Iran from destabilizing the region, was a non-Iran-related sentence.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked President Trump for his commitment to Israel’s security and America’s support for Israel at the United Nations,” that sentence read.
This Netanyahu-Trump conversation took place on the eve of a summit in Ankara where the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey were meeting to discuss the future of Syria. (Some maintained the meeting was to carve up the country into three spheres of influence.) And amid all that, Netanyahu was thanking the US for standing up for it at the UN. Was this really the time to again praise US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley? Yes it was, because what the US did four days before that phone call, and again three days after it, was prevent a UN Security Council statement from condemning Israel for the violence on the Gaza border, and calling for a committee of inquiry to look into the deaths there over the last two weeks.
Leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran holds talks on Syria (REUTERS)
The US prevented a situation – since Security Council statements need to be agreed upon by all of the five permanent Security Council members, the US, Russia, China, France and Britain – of placing Israel again in the defendant’s box.
By preventing this statement, the US prevented an avalanche of condemnations from every corner of the world that would have created a momentum of its own; an anti-Israel dynamic that often begins with condemnations and calls for committees of inquiry from the Security Council.
Yes, the EU quickly issued a statement following the events over each of the last two weeks that placed the burden of responsibility on Israel and questioned whether it used “proportionate” force – for the EU this has become almost a reflex. But the type of statement EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini issued, and that Kuwait – currently one of the Security Council’s 10 non-permanent members – wanted to see come out of the Security Council, was foiled by the US.
The significance for Israel is not only diplomatic, but also operational. The types of Palestinian demonstrations and attempts to breach the border fence witnessed over the last two weeks along the Israel-Gaza border are expected to continue and peak on May 15, the day after the State of Israel was declared in 1948, and which the Palestinians now mark as their “Day of Catastrophe.”
UN ambassadors condemn killing of Palestinian protesters by Israeli troops, April 6, 2018 (Reuters)
Israel is bracing to deal with consecutive weeks of violence on the border, and doesn’t want its ability to deal with it as it sees fit to be hindered or restrained through diplomatic maneuvers. But having the US have your back at the UN does not mean your problems are over.
If Washington may ensure that the Security Council does not have a chilling effect on Israel’s ability to prevent a breach of the border, a completely different message came out of The Hague on Sunday when International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that both IDF and Hamas actions could potentially constitute war crimes – Israel because of the use of “violence against civilians,” and Hamas because of the “use of civilian presence for the purpose of shielding military activities.”
She clearly hoped to have a restraining effect when she wrote that “any new alleged crime committed... ` be subjected to my office’s scrutiny. This applies to the events of the past weeks and to any future incident.”
But this chilling effect can only be one-sided, because Bensouda obviously realizes that Hamas – a terrorist organization recognized as such by the US and the EU – is not really going to be restrained much by warnings that it is committing war crimes. Terrorist organizations, by their very nature, don’t really care that much about committing war crimes.
Netanyahu’s words of thanks to Trump last week for Washington’s support at the UN could be seen as a note of appreciation for keeping the Security Council from tying Israel’s hands.
But that does not mean Israel is in the clear: other international bodies are still interested in doing just that.