Israel trades barbs with Cuba at UN

After blocking UNSC Gaza statement, UN reps battle Cuba-chaired Non-Aligned Movement on subject.

gillerman 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
gillerman 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Following a failed attempt by the Non-Aligned Movement to condemn Israel over the situation in the Gaza Strip last week, the Israeli Mission to the United Nations, encouraged by the subtle victory, has continued to stake out the country's right to defend itself in a series of exchanges with the permanent representative of Cuba to the UN. For more than a week, members of the Security Council debated a draft presidential statement put forth by the Non-Aligned Movement that blamed Israel exclusively for the "humanitarian crises" in Gaza. But after several attempts, led by the United States, to amend the statement to reflect a more balanced position, the council abandoned efforts to reach consensus, leaving the Arab members at an obvious loss. At one point in the drawn-out debate, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman criticized the Non-Aligned Movement for its cynicism and ignorance. "As the late [UN ambassador and NY senator] Patrick Moyniham once said, what indeed is the Non-Aligned Movement non-aligned about? Is it even relevant today?" challenged Gillerman. Angered by those comments, Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, the permanent representative of Cuba, wrote a letter on behalf of the movement, which he currently chairs, criticizing Gillerman for "several offensive and distorted remarks" regarding the position of the Non-Aligned Movement. "The representative of Israel is totally mistaken if he thinks that distorting the long-standing principled NAM positions regarding the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, will deter the movement from expressing those positions in every appropriate international forum including the Security Council," Diaz wrote on behalf of the NAM, in a letter dated January 31. Israel has refused to back down, and says Cuba should not speak on behalf of all members of the movement, several of whom have condemned terrorism both publicly and privately and backed Israel's right to defend itself. Gillerman assured the Security Council that Israel had no interest in "ridiculing or distorting the position of any member state," and encouraged the international community to play a "constructive" role by supporting the bilateral process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. "But that support means that member states should take a balanced approach to the conflict," Gillerman wrote in a response to the Cuban ambassador. "Embracing one-sided narratives as the statement circulated by the NAM chairman does, particularly when Israeli security concerns are wholly ignored and even trivialized, will not advance the prospects for peace." Gillerman also suggests that several Non-Aligned Movement-affiliated members of the council have both publicly and in bilateral meetings with the Israeli mission, recognized "the legitimacy of the Israeli position" regarding terrorist attacks, and "condemned-in no uncertain terms" the rocket fire by Palestinian terrorists. "These NAM members have expressed their understanding that Hamas is liable for its actions and [that] Israel has an inherent right to defend itself from these attacks," Gillerman wrote on January 4. Several of those countries broke with the long-standing refusal to condemn attacks on Israel, in the heated discussions that took place in the council chambers over the last two weeks over the situation in the Middle East and in particular in the Gaza Strip. There is often a discrepancy between what officials are willing to express in bilateral meetings with Israel, and their public statements before the Security Council. But several countries publicly condemned the rocket attacks on Israel and some backed Israel's right to defend itself, while at the same time expressing concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza. "The Non-Aligned Movement is representing more then 100 states, many of which have good relations with Israel, and we certainly respect them," Deputy Permanent Representative Daniel Carmon told The Jerusalem Post. "We definitely did not intend to offend them, but to point out our feeling that the Cuban chairman of this group took the liberty of using his chairmanship in sending declarations which do not reflect the national points of view of all members of the group." If Cuba was interested in supporting the bilateral process between Israel and the Palestinians, they "should be more balanced and reflect the real situation on the ground, namely, that the Palestinian terrorism is part of the equation," Carmon said.