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The sense in Israel is that the Jewish state's standing at the United Nations is, at long last, improving. Yet to those of us who have observed the UN for a long time, this rosy impression is truly puzzling.
On the ground, in the halls and daily operations, nothing has changed. The UN General Assembly continues to pay more attention to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict than to any other country-specific issue. The world's worst atrocities and humanitarian crises are ignored, but time is always available for Israel-bashing. The 60th General Assembly session, in this respect, has been in no way different from its predecessors.
Between December 1 and 8, the UN General Assembly repeated its annual ritual of adopting 17 resolutions directed at Israel by the same large margins, using roughly the same language, as before.
A few days earlier, on November 29, the UN had also arranged another annual ritual, a memorial session marking the UN's own partition resolution of 1947. Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke at this event, with a map of "Palestine" on which Israel had disappeared displayed prominently by the dais.
Earlier in the session, the UN's Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Human Rights Practices filed a 27-page report castigating Israel and focusing special attention on the security barrier. "More than ever," the report claims, "it appeared to the Committee members that the construction of the separation wall violated every single human right of the Palestinians."
The General Assembly also had before it a report from the secretary-general which purported to be evenhanded but was studded with comments slanted against Israel. Thus, Prime Minister Sharon's "political courage" and the PA's "responsible behavior" were lauded, but that was followed by the complaint that Israel had withdrawn from Gaza without demolishing the synagogues of Gush Katif. "The buildings were thus passed unexpectedly to the Palestinian Authority, which was not in a position to protect them," said the report.
The secretary-general's report also complained about Israel's failure to implement "core commitments under the road map" regarding expansion of settlements and retention of outposts. Not a word, however, was said about the Palestinian failure to fulfill its road-map obligation to take "visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere."
Repeatedly, this "evenhanded" report totally disregarded Israel's security needs in light of the continuing terrorist threat.
WHAT, THEN, is the reason for the new, rose-colored view of the UN? The resolution establishing an international Holocaust memorial day has been pointed to as an example of the new spirit. That resolution passed without a vote when neither the Iranians nor the Syrians bothered to object. The Egyptian representative did criticize the resolution but did not call for a vote.
As the son of parents who died in Majdanek, I believe that there are more appropriate places for commemorating our Six Million than an organization which shortly thereafter adopts measures designed to threaten the security of the live Five Million Jews of Israel.
Another illustration of allegedly improved conditions is the election of Ambassador Dan Gillerman as one of the 21 vice presidents of the UN General Assembly. That happened only because he was one of the nominees of the UN's "Western and Others Group" (WEOG).
It was nice for WEOG to nominate Gillerman, but it would be nicer if WEOG were to give Israel equal standing with the other members of the group, rather than continuing its second-rate status. As for Israel inscribing itself as a candidate for a WEOG Security Council seat for 2019-20, another allegedly positive development, what does this purely unilateral act tell us about the attitude of the United Nations toward Israel in 2005?
Putting a brave face on things, much has been made of the fact that instead of adopting 18 anti-Israel resolutions, the General Assembly adopted only 17 this year. The resolution that was dropped dealt with Israel's alleged mistreatment of Palestinian children. But even this "concession" is utterly meaningless. As the EU representative explained, "the Palestinian delegation withdrew its draft resolution on Palestinian childrenâ€¦ and incorporated elements into an existing resolution."
After having spent a few years at the United Nations as the US ambassador, the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a book about his experience there. It was entitled A Dangerous Place. It is still a dangerous place, both for the United States and for Israel.
Israeli officials tend to explain their casual attitude toward UN General Assembly resolutions, as a recent article in The Jerusalem Post reported, by claiming that they "are non-binding and considered to have only declarative significance." In other words they are, to use Ben-Gurion's famous put-down "umm shmumm."
That is true of many of these anti-Israel resolutions, but some are different. They are the resolutions that continue to authorize an anti-Israel propaganda apparatus that flies the UN flag, is paid for by the UN, and operates worldwide. Leadership of this propaganda apparatus is vested in the Division for Palestinian Rights, located in the UN Secretariat.
This UN-sponsored anti-Israel propaganda effort, which has encouraged the divestment and academic boycott campaigns, appears to have operated below the radar screen of many observers, perhaps even the government of Israel. Its detrimental effect on the peace process has, however, been fully recognized by the US. As US Ambassador John Bolton's deputy recently put it:
"These biased UN programs do not further [the] goal of the world community. And now especially, with increased prospects for peace with Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Palestinian elections and steps to take greater responsibility for good governance, such programs only undercut the chances of a durable, just peace."
It is vitally important to recognize the damage caused by the very existence of the UN's anti-Israel propaganda apparatus - which leads the worldwide effort to delegitimize the Jewish state - and to support the American efforts to eliminate that apparatus.
The writer, a former deputy US representative in the UN Security Council, has also served as US assistant secretary of state for human rights.