Imagining Israel on the Security Council

Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon discusses this and other – more likely – council scenarios in the final days of the Obama administration.

UNESCO resolution on Temple Mount in Jerusalem
Up until now, Israel has worked quietly and behind the scenes lobbying select countries to back its historic bid to win a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2019-2020.
On Wednesday, in Astana, Kazakhstan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought these efforts front and center.
At a press conference with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the seemingly eternal president of Kazakhstan, he asked for that majority-Sunni Muslim state’s support for the Jewish state’s bid for a Security Council seat when it comes to a vote in the UN General Assembly in the summer of 2018. To gain a seat, candidate countries need the support of at least twothirds (128) of the states in the General Assembly.
Though at first it seemed odd for Netanyahu to be talking about this move in Astana, of all places, there was logic to his choice of a setting. Kazakhstan, which gained independence from the Soviet Union only 25 years ago, will begin its tenure as a two-year rotating member of the body on January 1.
“I asked President Nazarbayev to support the Israeli bid for the Security Council seat,” he said. “You know that we supported Kazakhstan’s successful bid to be in the Security Council. Now if you want a real change in the world, imagine the State of Israel on the Security Council of the United Nations – that’s a change. And it’s supposed to be in 2019, and I think it’s possible. And with your help, it will be realized.”
Don’t hold your breath.
The council is composed of five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – and 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly. Candidates for one of the non-permanent seats on the council are allocated according to regional blocs, with Israel – since 2000 – a member of the 28-strong Western European and Others Group.
Three members of this group have declared their intention to vie for the two spots open to it in 2019: Israel, Belgium and Germany.
Israel is the only country in the Mideast – and one of 67 countries in the UN, many of those small island-states – that has never sat on the Security Council, a body that historically has had a tremendous impact on Israel and the region.
That Netanyahu is publicly talking about this shows his confidence in Israel’s role in the world.
Indeed, the bid for the candidacy was made in September 2005, immediately after the Gaza withdrawal when then-prime minister Ariel Sharon went to the annual General Assembly, was greeted as a hero, and felt the world was all of a sudden Israel’s oyster.
It was then, at precisely that moment, that his foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, said Israel would seek a coveted spot on the council.
Such an actuality, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon told The Jerusalem Post this week, would be a “game-changer for Israel at the UN” and is “one of the most important diplomatic goals we have set for ourselves.”
Danon, in the country escorting a delegation of 14 UN ambassadors on a mission organized by the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange – the second such mission this year – said that Jerusalem will begin more actively campaigning for the Security Council spot at the beginning of the year.
He said that the visit of the UN ambassadors here, as well as Netanyahu’s visits abroad – this week he went to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, and in two months he will be going to Singapore, Australia and Fiji, where he will take part in a summit of more than a dozen states in the Pacific – are all parts of efforts to drum up support for the bid.
BUT THE OUTSIDE chance that Israel might be able to join the Security Council is not the reason that this forum is very much on Danon’s mind. The real reason is concern that in the five weeks left to President Barack Obama’s presidency, the council – with US acquiescence – might pass a resolution on the Mideast.
Currently, he said, two draft resolutions are circulating: the first a New Zealand resolution that is the Mideast equivalent of motherhood and apple pie, a feel-good declaration calling for two states living in security side by side, and the second is an anti-settlement resolution being pushed by the Palestinians.
The New Zealand resolution states that the twostate solution is the “only way to achieve an enduring peace that meets Israeli security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, ends the occupation that began in 1967 and resolves all permanent-status issues.”
It also calls for a “firm timetable” for an early return to negotiations, and for refraining from setting “preconditions for the resumption” of talks.
Likewise, it calls for a “cessation of Israeli settlement activity” as well as “active and sustained Palestinian leadership to deter incitement to violence against Israeli civilians.”
In other words, it’s pretty vacuous. Then why oppose it? First of all, Danon said, Israel’s experience with these types of drafts is that they may start off innocuous, but after deliberations with the sides and with other parties, the language is often made considerably worse.
“All Security Council resolutions are problematic because they ultimately push negotiations further away,” Danon said, articulating Israel’s position that if the Palestinians know they can isolate Israel in the international arena, they won’t feel a need to negotiate.
But regardless of the resolution, he continued, “if you look at the language, they start with language that tries to be balanced – it is not balanced, but it tries to be. But, as the initiators meet other representatives, there are always changes, and the resolution never ends where it started.
“New Zealand is leaving the Security Council [on December 31] and they have a desire to do something,” Danon said, explaining Wellington’s rationale. “I told them that we will remain here with the Palestinians after December, and that it is important that everything that is done be constructive and not give the Palestinians encouragement to go to the international community rather than talk to us.”
The Palestinian draft, he said, does not even have the pretense of starting off balanced. According to Danon, it is essentially three pages of blaming Israel and the settlements for the ongoing conflict.
It is similar to an anti-settlement resolution that Obama vetoed in 2011, he said. It reaffirms that “all Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including east Jerusalem, are illegal under international law and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of peace on the basis of the two-state solution.”
This resolution, Danon said, is obviously much more problematic for Israel than the New Zealand draft. As to whether, in the twilight of his tenure, Obama might let such a resolution pass, Danon repeated the official US policy: Washington will not support an imbalanced resolution.
But then he added a caveat: Balance is very much in the eye of the beholder, and defining an imbalanced resolution is an issue open for interpretation.
“Our position is that there is now no reason for a resolution,” he said. “It is not constructive, does not contribute to the negotiations or help the Palestinians, and is just an attempt to take advantage of the current transition period in the US.”
But what happens in the worst-case scenario? What happens if the US does not use its veto, and the resolution passes? “There is dual significance,” he said.
“First of all, it gives support to the Palestinian tactic that they need to work in the international arena, not through negotiations with Israel. It proves to them that achievements come by bypassing Israel, not through direct contact.
“Second, it will encourage the Palestinians to continue on this track, and they will continue by demanding sanctions against Israel for violating a Security Council resolution. That is their strategy today: not to conduct negotiations, isolate Israel, call for boycotts, label Israel as an apartheid state – and this would strengthen that narrative.”
The resolution itself would do nothing to alter the reality on the ground, he asserted, “but would pull the Palestinians into other steps against Israel; it would not stop there.”
Asked whether he thought Obama would allow the resolution to go through or use the US veto, Danon – who went to New York just over a year ago as one of the most right-wing MKs in the Likud faction – pointed out that the president prevented two major moves against Israel over the last years. The first was vetoing the anti-settlement resolution in 2011, and the second was preventing a Palestinian statehood bid in 2014 from getting the nine members on the Security Council needed for it to come to a vote.
“I very much hope this policy will not change,” he said. “If you listen to what the American leaders are saying, they are asking whether this type of resolution is good or bad for the diplomatic process.
Nobody can convince me that it is good for the process.”
Asked about the bill to legalize outposts, Danon said that it would obviously give momentum to those who wish to see a motion passed by the Security Council, and advised his colleagues on the Right to weigh every move carefully. He did say, however, that in the international community there is recognition of the difference between a proposed bill and a law that passes.
Without any hesitation, Danon said that up until now Obama has supported Israel in the UN. But if the US would now support one of the draft resolutions moving through the system, all that support would be forgotten, and the legacy of the Obama administration would be that it changed decades of US policy on the Mideast and removed America’s shield of Israel in the UN.
So what? he is asked. Why does that matter to the administration? “The relationship is important, and they realize and appreciate it,” he replied.
“What is happening in the region matters to them. And these are steps that would just not be effective or constructive.”