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The year 2006 was a mixed one for Israel at the United Nations. It pronounced itself satisfied with Resolution 1701 at the end of the summer's war against Hizbullah and was, privately, less so with the slow pace of UN progress toward sanctions aimed at thwarting Iran's nuclear program. And as ever, it was anything but content with the UN's handling of the Palestinian issue, as anti-Israel resolutions continued to abound.
Dr. Riyad Mansour is the man who keeps the Palestinian kettle at the UN boiling. As the head of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, Mansour, who has spent more than a dozen years at the mission, spends his days at the UN promoting Palestinian programs and pushing resolutions condemning Israel while maintaining, he says, a cordial relationship with Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman.
Born in 1947, raised in Ramallah and US-college educated, Mansour formally represents the PLO - the signatory to the Israel-Palestinian peace accords. Reporting to the office of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Mansour works out of an office on New York's Upper East Side.
In this interview, Mansour hails Palestinian successes at the UN, and suggests that Israel alienates potential UN supporters through arrogance and poor diplomacy. At root, though, he says, is the widespread support at the UN for the "just cause of Palestine." Things have been "very difficult on the ground," says Mansour, "but at the UN I am very satisfied with the work being done for Palestine. The results at the last General Assembly were better than acceptable."
What do you mean by 'difficult on the ground?'
There are very unfortunate events taking place internally, particularly between the two leading parties, [Fatah and Hamas]. Settling political issues through confrontation is not in the interest of the Palestinians. The difficulty on the ground is also due to the financial blockade against the Palestinian people. That blockade is unfair because those who suffer from it are the Palestinian people and not a particular political party and not a specific leadership. It... amounts to punishing the Palestinian people for democratically electing their representatives.
The situation at the United Nations is different... We were able to maintain the essence of our resolutions and in fact to update and reflect changes on the ground. ... On many of the political resolutions we were able to attain an average of 10 additional votes [compared to 2005]. In addition to this, on all of the political resolutions we had unanimous European support. And also we were able to have a new resolution establishing a registrar of damages for the illegal wall.
Israeli officials say they had addressed and were continuing to address the issue of damages [relating to the security barrier] and that this resolution was not helpful.
The fact that the Israeli government has a mechanism in place to deal with the illegal construction of the wall does not relieve them of international responsibility as a result of the determination of the International Court of Justice... So the registrar of damages, by a decision by the General Assembly, is to address the issue of receiving claims for the purpose of restitution and compensation...
[Overall, despite] the internal Palestinian problems and the preconditions by the quartet imposed upon the Palestinian government... Israeli diplomacy was unable to translate this conducive and favorable environment into political gains or successes at the UN... The Israeli mission had a circular announcing what their objectives would be at the beginning of the year... From what I understand one of the objectives was to consolidate or demolish Palestinian programs. Not only were they unable to consolidate the programs, on the contrary, the UN programs related to Palestine increased...
Palestinian diplomacy was successful... But I think that there are other factors related to it: Perhaps the arrogance of certain people and how they conduct themselves at the United Nations. They tend to also antagonize a large majority of people. But before all of these things I believe that there is strong support for the just cause of Palestine at the UN by a huge number of countries. And to come and say that this is the "automatic immoral majority in the General Assembly," I think it works against them [Israel]...
[Yet] we would not hesitate for a second to trade away all of the resolutions and all of the programs in favor of practical steps in the direction of ending occupation and establishing a Palestinian state next to Israel on the land they occupied in 1967 including east Jerusalem.
How can the Israelis move on peace with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist?
The issue of recognition is not relevant because it already took place in 1993 when the late president Arafat and the late prime minister Rabin went to the White House and exchanged recognition between the PLO and Israel, and the PLO represents all the Palestinians inside and outside. Recognition has taken place. Why should it now be brought back? Israel is requesting that Hamas, a political party, recognize Israel. There are political parties on the Israeli side that don't recognize political agreements recognizing the Palestinians. Generally, agreements are concluded between parties that represent all of society and on the Palestinian and Israeli side this happened in 1993.
Hamas received such a substantial portion of the vote [as to prevail in general elections] - making it more than just one of many voices.
When president Arafat acted on behalf of the Palestinians and the PLO and engaged in the exchange of recognition with prime minister Rabin, there were some components within the PLO who refused to acknowledge it. And nobody placed conditions on them that the agreement will be honored.
Even in many of the Israeli coalition governments since the first Camp David, there were parties that were objecting to agreements taking place, including Oslo, but nobody raised the issue that these specific parties need to comply with these specific agreements or need to change their position or nothing will move forward or sanctions will be imposed...
What is your response to the UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program?
As part of the Arab league we are in favor of the Middle East being a free zone of nuclear weapons. That is not only applicable to Iran and any other Arab country but also applicable to Israel...
Of course, the argument from those who are pushing for these resolutions or actions is that they don't view countries like Israel, India and Pakistan [in the same light as] Iran and North Korea. But... to say that this country passes on the scale of democracy and this country doesn't, and therefore we have to go after them and do whatever we want, and those that are acceptable as democratic from our perspective can go and do whatever they want and they can have a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons - this kind of selectivity and double standard would really ruin the credibility and moral power of the UN.