The call “Next Year in Jerusalem” went out from a model Passover Seder held in the United Nations delegates dining room on Tuesday, not far from where the world body in December condemned the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Among the ambassadors and diplomats from some 60 countries munching on matza and getting an explanation of the bitter herbs and haroset on the Seder plate, as well as hearing the clarion call “Next Year in Jerusalem,” were those from Turkey, Ireland and Kyrgyzstan – all countries adamantly opposed to the US move.
This is the third year in a row that Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, has hosted a model Seder at the world body. While the vast majority of the countries in attendance are considered friendly states toward Israel, some of those in attendance– such as Mozambique, Senegal, Turkey and Russia – have abhorrent voting records when it comes to Israel issues.
The idea behind holding the event, Danon has said, is to familiarize the diplomats with Jewish customs, to stress the holiday’s universal theme of freedom, and also to prove a political point: Many at the UN believe Israel just appeared out of nowhere in 1948, but here is a holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt to the Promised Land thousands of years ago.
While representatives from the US – which is taking the “Next Year in Jerusalem” call to heart and actually moving its embassy to the capital in May – did not take part in the Seder, Guatemala, the only other country that, so far, has announced that it will follow America’s lead and do the same, was represented.
DANON, IN an interview with The Jerusalem Post,
ahead of our newspaper’s April 29 annual conference in New York
, where he plans to speak, said another dozen countries may also soon announce the moves of their embassies. Though he did not specify the countries, speculation has centered around states such as Honduras and Panama, both countries that were in attendance at the Seder.
Danon is not the only one who has been saying that other countries will soon move their embassies, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely having made similar claims repeatedly over the last several months.
Asked what the countries were waiting for, Danon replied, “Foreign policy depends on domestic issues, often on elections. I am optimistic. We are speaking with at least a dozen countries – it doesn’t mean that they will automatically all move their embassies at the same time, but I am optimistic.”
Danon preferred to look at the vote slamming the US for its Jerusalem move through cup-half-full glasses, saying that although Israel lost in the balloting by 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions and 21 countries not showing up, that 34% of the world body did not vote for the measure is not without significance.
The Palestinians, Danon said, were “really upset” at the tally, compared to votes in the past when far fewer states could have been counted on to abstain or stay away altogether.
“They will have to take this into consideration when planning their next moves at the UN; things can work against them,” he said.
Danon added that about a dozen ambassadors came up to him after the vote and apologized for voting against.
“They know the facts; they know the truth,” he said, declining to mention their names.
“Some of them felt bad personally,” he explained, saying that Israel was at a disadvantage because the vote in the General Assembly took place relatively quickly, without sufficient time for the ambassadors to go home and consult with their foreign ministers.
Danon said that his experience has been that when there is time before a significant vote for the ambassadors to go back to their capitals and engage in consultation with their foreign ministries, the results are usually better. When there is not much time for consultation, countries often just fall back on previous voting patterns, and those previous voting patterns are generally not good for Israel.
Regarding US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s comment that the US was paying close attention to those who voted against it, and that there would be consequences, Danon said that while he does not know how or if Washington has punished countries who voted against its move on Jerusalem, he does know that countries that supported the US vote have benefited.
“I speak a lot to Haley,” he said. “The US gets a lot of requests from countries on global issues, and they are more supportive and more engaged with those who supported them,” he said. According to Danon, there have been incidents where countries that supported the US have made requests to the US delegation in New York, which were then sent on to Washington with a favorable recommendation.
AS TO the appointment as national security adviser of John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the UN and staunch supporter of Israel, Danon said that Haley “knows how to protect us at the UN.”
Bolton’s impact, the ambassador said, will be felt on non-UN related Mideast issues.
“He will be in the room, a presence in the room, when the president makes decisions,” Danon said, something that, from Israel’s point of view, is positive.
When asked whether Haley’s very strong public support of Israel at UN has made any practical difference, Danon replied that it creates an atmosphere that then enables other countries to take more supportive positions.
In the past, he said, the atmosphere at the UN was so thoroughly negative toward Israel that it was hard for other countries to publicly give any support. “She has helped change the atmosphere, and this is something that we should be grateful for,” he said.
Danon said he has felt this change in the tone of some of the UN reports, which are less stridently anti-Israel than may have been the case in the past, as well as in minor changes in some voting patterns.
For instance, on an anti-Israel resolution adopted earlier this month by the UN Commission on the Status of Women titled “Situation of and assistance to Palestinian women,” Canada, Guatemala and the United Kingdom joined Israel in voting against (30 voted in favor), and 11 abstained.
Last year, only Israel voted against. Brazil and Ghana went from voting for the resolution last year to abstaining in 2018.
Danon said that, following the vote against the Jerusalem move in the General Assembly in December, the Palestinians were “exploring other possibilities to embarrass Israel or the US in the UN.”
One step they are taking, he said, is acting on their threat to join various international bodies, treaties and organizations. Last week, for instance, they joined eight of them, including the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the Specialized Agencies; the Food Assistance Convention; the International Convention against Apartheid in Sports; and the Supplementary Convention on Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices similar to Slavery.
“Some of these are important, some are less important,” Danon said. “It shows, however, how they are handling foreign relations: by simply ignoring Israel and the US.”
While these steps “won’t practically help anyone on the ground in Gaza or Ramallah, it allows the Palestinian Authority to show its people they are doing something,” Danon said, characterizing these unilateral actions as “unfortunate.”
It will be difficult to stop the Palestinians as they proceed along this route, Danon admitted, saying however that the US does have some leverage, and that in certain cases it could – as it did in 2011, when the PA joined UNESCO as a member state – cut off funding.
“Each case is different,” he said.
Even as they proceed with this tactic, Danon said, the Palestinians understand that “there will be no way to move forward without the US. Maybe publicly they will ignore and condemn the United States, but practically they know they can’t ignore it. You can look at this as a sign of protest. The question is how long will they continue – are they protesting what is happening, or is this something that will continue forever?”
One thing that has continued forever at the UN is Israel’s failure to win a seat on the Security Council. Israel is the only country in the region – and one of the few countries in the UN – that has never sat on the Security Council, a body that historically has had a tremendous impact on Israel and the region. Despite running this year for the first time for a seat in 2019 to 2020, the odds of Israel actually winning one are slim.
Nevertheless, Danon said that Israel – contrary to some reports and the fact that Israel has not invested millions of dollars in efforts to win a seat – is not withdrawing its candidacy, one it put forth in 2005, as it basked in the brief glow of international support for its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Israel is vying with Belgium and Germany for the two slots allocated to countries that are members of the UN’s Western European and Others regional grouping. When Israel first declared its candidacy, only Belgium had expressed a desire to seek a seat; Germany made its intentions known only about five years ago.
In order to win a seat, countries have to gain support of two-thirds of the General Assembly, or 128 votes. Acknowledging that this will be difficult – the voting is scheduled for June – Danon raised the possibility of splitting the two-year tenure with Belgium. In the election for seats on the council for 2017-2018, neither Italy nor the Netherlands could gain 128 votes, so they decided to split the term, with each country serving one year.
Though far-fetched, this is an option, Danon said, and one that – while it may not be the best-case scenario – would be far better than nothing.
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