PM, Foreign Ministry officials support FM over UN vote

Likud, Labor pledge, however, they will make 'campaign fodder' out of failure to obtain US veto.

livni steinmeier 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
livni steinmeier 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and senior officials in the Foreign Ministry rallied around Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Sunday, deflecting criticism that she failed in her job by not stopping the passage Thursday of the UN Security Council resolution demanding a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. Likud and Labor officials had said earlier Sunday the fact the UN vote had passed without the American veto that has become customary for resolutions seen as harming Israel would be campaign fodder against Kadima's prime ministerial candidate. Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Olmert defended Livni, saying that she had warned from the beginning of the likelihood of a UN resolution, and that were it not for her efforts and the efforts of the Foreign Ministry, a more critical resolution would have been passed much sooner. However a source close to Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu said: "It's clear to us that her behavior was unsatisfactory. She is in charge of the diplomatic process. She should have prevented such a decision at the UN, and by failing she caused Israel great damage." Labor officials said that everyone was doing their part in Operation Cast Lead, including the soldiers, the municipalities in the South and the residents under fire, and that "only our public relations failed a crucial test." Livni responded to the charges at a Foreign Ministry press conference with German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, saying that anyone who knew anything about diplomacy realized that at a certain point in time the issue would come to the Security Council. "Anyone who has any understanding of what happens on the diplomatic playing field during any military operation knows that at some stage an agreement is reached similar to the one that was reached at the Security Council," Livni said. "Every time that Israel starts a military operation with all the legitimacy in the world, immediately there is an international effort to lower the flames." Livni said this was a "regular ritual," and that only because Israel was in the midst of an election campaign were voices raised attacking her for not doing enough. Livni said she would not enter into this political argument. "There are those who are trying to get political capital out of this, and it is a shame," Livni said. "There is a war here, there is a nation here, and there are interests that need to be guarded." Livni said that from the first night that the IAF bombed Gaza and the Security Council met in a special session, she, Olmert and the Foreign Ministry labored to gain Israel as much time as possible to achieve its goals. She said she did not like the Security Council's decision and she had succeeded in delaying it more than once, but there was no way to prevent it from passing. The Likud in return accused Livni of using a press conference with a visiting foreign minister for political propaganda. "Rather than use such a forum for political slogans in Hebrew for the Israeli public, Livni should have used it to explain in English the positions of Israel about the operation in Gaza to the world," the Likud said in an official statement. Senior officials in the foreign Ministry deflected criticism that Livni should have been in New York to fight the resolution, saying that she did not want to give the whole process at the UN - which she objected to and lobbied heavily against - legitimacy. Furthermore, the officials said, had she gone, she would have been criticized for not being in Jerusalem to make critical decisions. "This is what we heard when she went to Paris during the first week of the operation," one official said. Foreign Minister director general Aaron Abramovich said that while Israel was opposed to the resolution, and would have preferred that it not be passed, there were some elements which were favorable, such as its call for a sustainable and durable cease fire, its call for a mechanism to stop the arms smuggling, and its call for the border crossings to be opened only under Palestinian Authority control. "This resolution has many positive elements, and it is no wonder that they are very angry with it in Syria, and that Hamas is unhappy with it," he said in an Israel Radio interview. Diplomatic sources, meanwhile, said that they did not see the US abstention on the vote as a turning point in US policy. Rather, the source said, the abstention reflected a tension regarding Middle East policy between the White House and the State Department that has been in evidence over the last 12 - 18 months. According to these sources, US Secretary of State Condoleezza rice favored voting in favor of the resolution, believing that this would best serve Israel's interests in the Arab world, and that the decision to abstain was taken after Olmert, in the middle of the night, phoned US President George W. Bush and asked for a US veto. Bush refused and instead ordered the US to abstain. Israeli officials said that while the Security Council resolution is not legally binding on Israel, meaning that there will not be sanctions if it is not honored, it does carry the weight of the international community and has a great deal of significance. While the Security Council is not expected to take any more action on the matter right now, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to arrive Thursday to push for acceptance of the resolution.