The decision by the United Nations Security Council to abandon attempts to agree on a presidential statement on the situation in Gaza constituted a rare victory for Israel, and the ensuing discussions signified a subtle shift away from the condemnation of Israel typical of the international body. Though instructed by the Foreign Ministry not to engage in the week-long discussions over a non-binding presidential statement that originally sought to condemn Israel for the humanitarian crises in Gaza, making no mention of rocket attacks on Israel, Israel worked behind the scenes with many members of the council, urging them to reject the unbalanced draft. The victory was felt at Wednesday's Security Council meeting on the Middle East, where Israel and the Arab states clashed in a series of bitter exchanges. That the Arabs felt they had lost regarding the presidential statement was clear. Their snipes at Israel had extra sting, as they struggled to come to grips with the fact that they had been unable to convince the council to agree on a presidential statement that would have condemned Israel for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Libya, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians used the forum to rail against Israel's 60-year occupation, saying this was the true cause of the current situation, not the rocket attacks on Israel. Responding, Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman reminded the council that the charter instructs them to carefully "screen and consider" who to admit to the 15-member body, suggesting that some members, in particular Libya, the president of the council this month, should never have been included. "Many of you have expressed your concern over the futility of these meetings, and now justifiably feel you are right," Gillerman told the council. Ultimately it served an important purpose to remind the council how vital it was to ensure that members were carefully screened and considered, he said. "This was highlighted today by the litany of bias, distortion, bigotry and hate delivered by the representative of a country [Libya] that was itself under sanctions of this council, the same people who gave the world [the] Lockerbie [bombing]. The fact that he was congratulated by the assassins of Damascus who are themselves under investigation by this council only added a sense of the surreal. That this was done by the president of the council, while expressing total support for terrorism, should alarm us all [as to] what awaits us and this council in next 23 months. And maybe today all I can say is TGIF, thank God it's February soon," Gillerman said. The Arab rhetoric is nothing new within the council chambers, though the tone Wednesday was noticeably strong. Statements by several Western delegations, however, reflected a subtle change. Following opening remarks by Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pasco, who warned that Palestinians face the rising threat of malnutrition if the current lockdown continues, some Western delegates began by expressing concern over the rocket and mortar attacks on Israel by Hamas. French Ambassador to the UN Jean-Maurrice Ripert said he regretted the council could not arrive at a consensus on a statement on Gaza, since "it would have been the first time the council condemned rocket fire against Israel." "No country would accept such attacks without defending itself," Ripert said, echoing Israeli rhetoric. One diplomatic official in Jerusalem said the Security Council's decision to abandon attempts to issue a presidential statement on Gaza was "not coincidental," and rather part of the international community's realization that "Hamas is the problem, and that the problems in Gaza are the result of Hamas, not Israel." This realization, he said, went hand-in-hand with the international community's widely adhered-to position that it would not deal with Hamas until that organization renounced violence, recognized Israel and accepted previous agreements. While many members of the council expressed concern for the humanitarian situation in Gaza and called on Israel to open the border crossings, they also expressed skepticism over whether such council meetings contributed to changes on the ground. "We see regular contacts between the Palestinian and Israeli leadership as a demonstration of the determination of the two leaders [Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas], and commend both men for their leadership and encourage them to continue," said John Sawers, United Kingdom Ambassador to the UN. "The international community have a responsibility to support the peace process, but I am not sure whether these debates are a useful contribution to this process." The United States echoed this skepticism, and criticized the Permanent Observer of Palestine, Riyad H. Mansour, for his continued rhetoric against Israel. "We share the Palestinian regret, and recognize that the humanitarian situation is troubling, but their credibility would have been enhanced if at minimum we would have heard from him something about Hamas," said Alejandro D. Wolff, Deputy Permanent US Representative. "It is regrettable we don't hear from him as we have heard from his own president." "How can we not rally and support a clear and sensible position; most of us were ready to do so," continued Wolff, referring to a draft statement that included amendments approved by the United States and 13 other council members Friday, which was eventually rejected by the Arabs. "The rhetoric we heard today will not help the process and in this regard we too question the utility of sessions such as this, which often serve as platforms of rhetoric." Israel also used Wednesday's council meeting to drive its message home. "The ugly face of Palestinian terrorism - the relentless, vicious, and horrifying acts of violence directed at Israelis, simply because they are Israelis - is the greatest humanitarian crisis and the greatest threat to human rights and to peace and stability in our region," Gillerman told the council. He criticized the Palestinian observer for failing to take any responsibility for the situation in the Gaza. "Mr. President, the only occupying power in Gaza is the terrorist occupation of Hamas that keeps not just Israel but its own people hostage to its terror and violence. This is the real world we're talking about. This is not theater," he said. Gillerman also warned the council of the growing instability in Lebanon, particularly that posed by Hizbullah in the areas south of Litani, which he said "is more severe today than ever before." While Israel welcomed a statement condemning the terrorist attacks that wounded two Irish peacekeepers on January 8, Gillerman said much more needed to be done to implement Resolution 1701. Weapons continued to pass through the Syrian-Lebanese border, and Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the two IDF soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah on July 12, 2006, were still being held without any sign of life or visit by the Red Cross, he noted. "Resolution 1701 is explicit in its call for the immediate and unconditional release of the Israeli soldiers, and I call on this council, as I have done before, to implement these provisions and help bring our boys home, without delay," said Gillerman. Herb Keinon contributed to this report.