A peculiar thing happened on the way to the passage of a routine anti-Israel resolution in the UN in June condemning Israel for the violence along the border fence with Gaza: Israel actually won a vote in the General Assembly.
That’s right, in the General Assembly, that body of 193 nations that will formally open its 73rd session next week with its annual general debate and parade of world leaders taking the podium to address the globe’s pressing problems.
And with all of the world’s pressing problems, you can count on leaders of countries such as Algeria, Belize and South Africa to take at least some of their allotted 15 minutes to slam Israel. It’s as much a New York rite of autumn as leaves changing colors and the Yankees making the baseball playoffs.
The General Assembly is a forum where the Palestinians enjoy an automatic majority of Muslim and developing countries that reflexively votes with them and against Israel.
But in June, a plurality of countries in the General Assembly – 62 to 58 – voted for a US-sponsored amendment to a resolution on the Gaza border fence violence that actually condemned Hamas. Because of the procedural necessity for a two-thirds majority, this amendment to the resolution slamming Israel was not adopted, and the anti-Israel resolution passed by a huge margin. But still, that an amendment blaming Hamas mustered a plurality in this forum was an eye-rubbing moment that marked a change of sorts.Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon
, who is entering his fourth year as Israel’s envoy to the world body, looks at that moment as one of Israel’s most significant victories last year in the UN.
Danon, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post
, said another small victory – one indicative of a more aggressive Israeli policy in tackling anti-Israel resolutions at the UN – came in July at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), a body he described as the second-most important body – after the Security Council – in the UN.
In response to an anti-Israel resolution on the “social and economic consequences of the Israeli occupation” that included a line accusing Israel of withholding the return of the bodies of terrorists, Israel proposed a counter amendment that called “for the immediate release of the civilians and soldiers being held in Gaza by Hamas.”
According to Danon, the Palestinians – concerned the Israeli amendment might actually pass – went to the European Union, which he said “turned cartwheels in the sky” to propose compromise language that mentioned neither Hamas nor Israel, but rather deplored “the practice of withholding the bodies of those killed, and called for the release of the bodies that have not yet been returned to their relatives.”
What was significant, Danon said, is that both in the General Assembly and at ECOSOC, the Palestinians did not just walk in and get their way. They had to fight. In both cases Israel acted in coordination and conjunction with the US delegation at the UN.
“Together with US Ambassador Nikki Haley, we are in a very active and proactive mode – and the Palestinians know we will not sit back and wait for their initiatives with our arms folded. We succeeded in embarrassing them twice in votes in forums that in the past were very comfortable for them,” he said.
These small successes have provided an impetus and momentum to take such actions in the future, he said, adding that the votes have forced the Palestinians to think twice before every proposal, realizing that they are not ensured an automatic victory, and that they must coordinate their moves closely with the EU.
“They still have a majority in the General Assembly, but they understand that they will now have to sweat and pay a price for every initiative, so they are choosing their battles,” he said.
BUT CHOOSING battles is quite different from avoiding them, and Danon said that in the coming weeks – soon after next week’s speeches by the world’s leaders – the Palestinians will bring additional measures to the UN in an attempt to diplomatically isolate and embarrass Jerusalem.
He said that the Palestinians are considering putting forward a resolution in the General Assembly that would condemn Israel for plans – recently given a green light by the High Court of Justice – to remove the Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin encampment near Kfar Adumim.
“This issue is very much in the press, and the Palestinians have a great deal of support in the EU against the eviction,” Danon said. He characterized the EU position, despite the court’s decision on the matter, as “hypocritical.”
“When there is a judgment by the court regarding the eviction of settlements or Jews, they support it and praise it, but when it deals with someone who is not Jewish, they question the legal system and democracy in Israel,” he said. “They know Israel has a strong legal system, and question it only when the decisions are not comfortable for them.”
He said that while a General Assembly resolution on this matter would have no real practical significance, it would be a public relations victory for the Palestinians.
So, too, he said, would be another resolution the Palestinians are considering: slamming the US for cutting funds to UNRWA.
“Here, too, there is no significance to the resolution, because you cannot obligate any country to give money,” Danon said. “But they will get public relations points, get attention, and set the public agenda, not only be on the defensive.”
As was the case over the summer, if the Palestinians decide to go through with either measure, they should expect pushback that could prove embarrassing for them, the ambassador warned.
Though Danon would not spell out what Israel might do, he said “there are issues that need to be discussed, such as the payment of money to terrorists, something that is being addressed by the US, Australia and some countries in Europe. We need to weigh whether to bring this to the international community for discussion.”
Danon said that in light of the tension between the Palestinian Authority and the Trump administration, and before the presentation of the long-awaited US peace plan, the Palestinians feel “they have to do something at the UN” to keep their issue alive and set the agenda. He dismissed reports that US President Donald Trump will present an outline of the principles of his plan during his speech to the UN on Tuesday, saying that the information he has is that the plan will not be rolled out before the beginning of 2019.
One way for the Palestinians to grab attention, he said, would be to go forward with an idea he said had been raised in internal Palestinian deliberations: a request to suspend Israel from the UN in the wake of the recently passed nation-state law.
Although any effort to evict Israel from the UN would surely come up against a US veto in the Security Council and not pass, it “would be a way of making things difficult for us.”
But, Danon said, the message that he is passing inside the UN is that if the Palestinians go through with such a maneuver, “there will be a response.”
Israel has in its toolbox appropriate ways to respond, “not only in the UN, but elsewhere,” he said.
Though the General Assembly can expel a country only upon getting a recommendation from the Security Council, it can suspend a country’s participation in the General Assembly, meaning that the country is unable to vote, speak or propose resolutions. This was done to South Africa in 1974.
Danon said he did not think the Palestinians could muster the necessary votes for this. “This is the type of issue where even countries that support the Palestinians realize there are boundaries beyond which they cannot go,” he said.
Another upcoming challenge, Danon said, will be the Palestinians taking over the chairmanship at the beginning of the year of the Group of 77, a group of developing countries formed in 1964 by 77 countries to promote common economic interests.
Danon said the Palestinians are sure to use this position to further upgrade their position in the UN. Presently they have the status of an observer state, which means they can’t vote and can speak only on issues relating directly to them. Danon said that from this perch they will try to continuously jab at Israel.
“I know that some of the countries in the group are also concerned about this, because this group generally tries to promote common concerns of all the countries in the group, not individual issues relating to different members,” he said.
He said that decisions in the group, which since 1964 has expanded to include 134 states, are taken by consensus, and that Israel does have some friends inside who would prevent the entire agenda being hijacked with anti-Israel resolutions. Among those friends are India, Singapore, Rwanda, Guatemala and others.
DANON, WHOSE tenure has been extended until April by Netanyahu, speaks warmly of the cooperation that exists with Haley and her office, saying that the messages of the two countries on a variety of issues are similar, even without a need to formally coordinate or trade drafts of speeches.
And that is a marked contrast to the situation that existed with the previous administration. According to Danon, the anti-settlement Security Council Resolution 2334 that the US enabled in December 2016 in the waning days of the Obama administration has influence and continues to create headaches for Israel in the UN.
“It was a horrible decision, and we have to deal with its ramifications,” he said. “There are reports that it mandates which we have to relate to every three months. And in every discussion, our adversaries try to insert language that makes reference to this resolution, and that forces us to have to use leverage and work with the US every time. It is being used as a club to hit us with, and we are dealing with it – but it takes time and energy.”