UN envoy warns against PA unilaterally declaring state

Meron Reuben says request could lead to disintegration of all agreements previously made between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Meron Reuben (photo credit: Courtesy)
Meron Reuben
(photo credit: Courtesy)
WASHINGTON – Israel’s ambassador to the UN warned the Palestinians against going to the world body with a unilateral declaration of statehood, saying it could lead to the disintegration of all agreements previously made between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
A “unilateral [declaration] will bring about the abrogation of all agreements until today, because in the agreements it’s specifically stated that the sides cannot bring their case to international bodies,” Meron Reuben declared Tuesday in comments to the B’nai B’rith International Policy Conference in Washington.
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Such unilateral actions, he continued, “will throw into doubt the whole process.”
Reuben, who was responding to a question from the audience on the possibility Palestinians would make such a move, as they have recently threatened, pointed out that if they were to go ahead, Israel would have to “face the consequences” – but so would the Palestinians.
In his prepared remarks, Reuben also pushed back against the singling out of Israel at the UN “in a one-sided manner that denies our most fundamental right to defend our citizens.”
But in response to another question, he later noted that Israel is looking strategically at the issue to improve its place in the organization, applying for membership in the Security Council for later in the decade and stepping up its engagement with the agency that controls the UN’s budget.
Reuben noted that Israel is the 31st-largest contributor to the UN in the world, and is hoping to use its expanded economic influence to curb some of the tremendous UN focus and antagonism toward Israel over the Palestinian issue.
“We’d like to put some spokes in the Palestinian wheel,” Reuben said of the strategy, but noted it wouldn’t “be easy” to change the climate there.
One of the UN agencies most frequently attacked by defenders of Israel for bias against the Jewish state is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
A top UNRWA official was also in Washington Tuesday, however, to make the case to Congress that the organization was not opposed to Israel.
UNRWA’s director for operations in the Gaza Strip, John Ging, met with close to 50 congressional staff members in a visit facilitated by J Street to focus attention on the humanitarian situation on the ground in Gaza and get more funds and supplies for its residents’ well-being, something which he argued would help Israelis and Palestinians alike.
“The generosity of the American taxpayer is at the top of the countries who contribute to help fund the human development and support the humanitarian operations on the ground, and I think, drawing from that starting point, there is a high level of commitment here and a high level of interest to know more and understand better,” he said of his reception on Capitol Hill.
In January, Republicans will take over the US House of Representatives and many – including the expected new chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – are highly critical of the UN, and specifically UNRWA.
“There’s a change in the House and we have to take note of that. We respect all those who are elected and the roles that they play,” Ging said when asked about the incoming leadership.
“We will face a new set of challenges which we have to embrace, and we have to step up to meet those challenges, in the first instance by presenting our case.”
Speaking after his meetings, Ging said he wanted to clarify “misinformation” such as the assertion that allowing cement to come into Gaza for UN projects could end up in the hands of Hamas, as Israel fears.
He said it was important for those involved in the issue to “embrace some difficult truths,” though he added that didn’t mean UNRWA should weigh in on political issues. He strongly criticized another UNRWA official, Andrew Whitley, outgoing head of UNRWA’s New York Representative Office, for recently saying that rather than vainly waiting to fulfill their “right of return,” Palestinians must start acknowledging that the refugees will almost certainly not be returning to Israel so that they can improve their situation.
“Andrew betrayed his responsibility as a UN official to stay within the parameters of his mandate, which is entirely regretted and regrettable,” Ging said of Whitley’s comments, though he commended him for his “courageous” admission that he erred.
Ging described a dire situation on the ground among Palestinians, but did note some improvements.
Since Israel’s embargo on goods was eased this summer, he said, Palestinians can now find all the household wares and food they need in stores, greatly diminishing the illegal smuggling through the tunnels from Egypt.
He also said that not only has Hamas stopped firing rockets at southern Israel, it’s carrying out patrols against other militant groups.
“They’re enforcing it,” he said, “which is a positive development.”