UN begins partition anniversary debate

Usually stage for anti-Israel bills but more positive tone expected this year.

UN general assembly 248.88 (photo credit: Channel 1)
UN general assembly 248.88
(photo credit: Channel 1)
As the United Nations began its annual debate on the Palestinian issue Tuesday, Israeli officials expect less criticism against Israel than in former years. Israeli diplomats at the UN have managed to take off the agenda one of the anti-Israeli resolutions and are negotiating a weaker language for other resolutions condemning Israel. The events marking 58 years to the UN vote on the Partition Plan that paved the way to the establishment of the Jewish state kicked off with a discussion on the rights of the Palestinian people. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called on both sides to work together to achieve peace in the Middle East and said that the withdrawal from Gaza and the fact the Palestinians were able to keep the calm during the process "raised hopes for the renewal of the political process." It has been a UN tradition to pass 20 or more resolutions against Israel annually on November 29, the day of the historic vote on the Partition Plan. This year, the pro-Palestinian bloc in the UN is presenting the same resolutions as last years, except for one titled "The Palestinian Child" that was dropped after negotiations between Israel and the European members. The resolutions, which are being put forward by Arab and Muslim members of the UN, are non-binding and considered to have only declarative significance. This year, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, expects the tone to be a little more favorable for Israel. "The atmosphere in the UN has changed significantly," Gillerman told The Jerusalem Post, "Israel is no longer an isolated country, but rather a normal and accepted member of the UN." According to Gillerman, this change in tone toward Israel has much to do with the withdrawal from the Gaza strip, completed this summer, and was noticed also in the warm welcome Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received in the UN when he attended the General Assembly last September. Annan, in his opening remarks Tuesday, has noted the disengagement as a positive step, though he stressed the need for Israel to ensure Palestinian contiguity in the West Bank and for the Palestinians to make sure violence does not erupt. Gillerman added that the improvement he senses in Israel's stand in the UN is also the result of a new policy of Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, that calls on Israeli diplomats working in the UN arena "to stop the defensive strategy and take over the initiative." In the past year, Israel has seen several positive moves in the UN, ranging from the decision to dedicate an annual Holocaust memorial day to the first ever Security Council condemnation to the Hizbullah after the latest round of attacks on the border with Lebanon. Yet the change in the UN's attitude toward Israel is far from complete. This year's November 29 discussions will still be focused on wrongdoings in the Palestinian territories and on the hardship of the Palestinians under occupation. While up until now, Israel would use the UN podium for a rebuttal of the claims against it, this year the foreign ministry and the Israeli delegation have decided "not to take part in this ritual," as Gillerman put it. Israeli delegates did not speak in the Tuesday discussion and will only answer briefly to the accusations in Wednesday's discussion that will focus on the situation of the Palestinians. "I will say that the they are stuck in the past and that we are looking to the future," says Gillerman. Asked whether Israel could count on the UN nowadays to pass a resolution as it did 58 years ago, when it approved the Partition Plan and the establishment of the State of Israel, Gillerman was cautiously optimistic. "Two or three years ago, the answer would have been no, they would not approve it, but today I think we would have a fairly good chance."