JPost conference preview: Ron Prosor on Israel and the United Nations

Watch: Israeli envoy to the UN discusses the mission's strategy on shifting the conversation about Israel, ahead of his speech at the JPost Annual Conference.

 Ron Prosor (photo credit: COURTESY ISRAELI EMBASSY TO US‏)
Ron Prosor
NEW YORK -- Have you never been to the office Ron Prosor before? Oh, then you absolutely must let the Israeli ambassador to the UN give you a tour of the numerous and phenomenal photographs on the wall. Over here, near Prosor’s desk at the far end of the spacious room, is the picture of when Israel held the position of Vice President of the General Assembly in 2012, and Prosor invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the General Assembly. It’s a moment Prosor describes as “one of his proudest.”
In the opposite corner near the door, is a picture of the Ambassador with the former Goodwill Ambassador of the UN High Commission on Refugees, better known as the Academy Award-winning actress Angelina Jolie. The picture was taken on the set of the 2005 film “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and let it be known to the world that Ms. Jolie is actually shorter than the Ambassador.
But just above the portrait with Angelina is the perhaps the most noteworthy and largest photograph in the room. On side of the picture stands then-prime minster of Israel Yitzhak Rabin, his hands folded tensely in front of him, his eyes focused off to the side, his face furious. In the center of the picture stands former PLO leader Yasser Arafat, face twisted away from the camera, surrounded by Russian foreign minister Andrey Kozyrev, King Hussein of Jordan, American secretary of state Warren Christopher, then-foreign minister of Israel Shimon Peres with his finger in Arafat’s face — an uncharacteristic gesture for Peres, Prosor says — and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak who has just said to Arafat, “You kalb ibn kalb, you dog son of a dog, I am the host! What do you think you’re doing!”
“I call it ‘The Middle East Without Words,’” Prosor explains. The seminal picture was taken three minutes after the pictured world leaders, who had gathered in Cairo in 1994, learned that Arafat had refused to sign the maps of Jerusalem for the Oslo accords. “They find out he’s refused to sign, they’re on live TV, onstage about to make the announcement, and everything goes into chaos,” Prosor explained.
More extraordinary, the picture is signed by everyone photographed, except Kozyrev. “I have Israeli ministers asking me if they could borrow it or have a copy,” Prosor joked. But so long as he is Ambassador to the UN, it’s not leaving his office.
The idea of the Middle East in constant chaos, well-intended plans falling apart at the last second, swearing and stern reprimands are a narrative familiar to anyone who has been paying even the slightest attention to the region. Prosor, who has been serving the Israeli government since the late 90s and in his current post since 2011, has had ample opportunity to witness both feats of diplomatic detonation and some extraordinary triumphs: from serving as the Vice President of the General Assembly, to the passage of the Israeli resolutions on entrepreneurship and technology for development, to the acceptance of Israel into the Western Europe and Other Group (WEOG) at the UN in Geneva and, most recently, the “JUSCANZ” group at the UN in New York, a caucusing group that consists of several the world’s most major democracies.
Prosor chalks up these victories as part of the Mission’s strategy to move the conversation about Israel in the UN away from solely the Israel-Palestinian conflict to what else Israel has to offer the world. Israel definitely has a role to play at the UN outside of defending itself, Prosor says. In addition to getting resolutions like the entrepreneurship bill passed in the General Assembly, Prosor thinks Israel could serve as a model for how other nations can pull themselves up the economic ladder.
“In the past we were exporting oranges. Today, we export Orange mobile phones. We were exporting apples, and today we’re exporting Apple computers,” he said. “We don’t have natural resources; we did it from the neck upwards. Our message is: you can do it if you really work hard, and I think it’s a message that people in the developing world relate to every day.”
As for the conflict, well, Prosor isn’t exactly a fan of the 22 resolutions that are passed every year singling Israel out. The constant talk of the conflict makes it difficult to move the conversation to where Prosor would rather it be.
“We have to solve the conflict on its own merits, but…we should go beyond the issue of the conflict,” Prosor told The Jerusalem Post. “Israel is so much about who we are and what we are: an amazing society, people who really excel in all fields of life, and what we are doing in the world is not out there.”
And despite the institutional animosity toward Israel, Prosor says the UN still serves an important purpose around the world.
“I feel that the UN really does good,” he said, and despite the political issues, “if you look at the different agencies of the UN, from the World Health Organization, and UNICEF, and UN Women, and UNDP, they’re doing amazing work all over the world. There are peacekeeping forces in the remotest places in the world where no other country will go.”
Is the UN always efficient? No, said Prosor. Are there issues within the UN? Of course, he said. But at the end of the day it’s important there be a place where countries can gather and “conduct a dialogue.”
“The idea, the essence of a family of nations, not always united, but a family of nations conducting a dialogue and trying to do good in sustainable development, solving problems, poverty, and human rights, that’s really amazing,” Prosor said. “I feel proud that Israel is part and parcel of the family of nations. And I walk the corridors of the UN tall and proud, knowing who I represent and what I represent, and that’s an amazing country and an amazing people.”