Still 'a dangerous place'

'Better' for Israeli diplomats does not necessarily mean better for Israeli interests.

united nations 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
united nations 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
On November 30, the United States took the unusual step of pulling back a draft resolution circulated in the UN Security Council. The draft would have acclaimed the Annapolis meeting and the conclusions reached there. It was reportedly withdrawn on a request made "at the highest level" of the Israeli government. If it is indeed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who urged the resolution's withdrawal, he deserves to be congratulated for this wise move. As Israel and the Palestinian Authority proceed on the course laid out at Annapolis, they must recognize that those who do not want them to succeed will use every available opportunity to prevent agreement. These opponents of a peaceful settlement are well aware of the fact that the UN system offers them an opportunity to block progress. They will make full use of it. UN Secretaries-General come and go, but the real power at the UN has for more than 30 years been exercised by an adroit group of operatives, working out of a few of the diplomatic missions in New York. These operatives have succeeded in imposing on the General Assembly an agenda far removed from the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter and devoted to undermining the international standing of the United States and, above all, to the delegitimization of Israel. Israel and the US are proceeding on the assumption that Mahmoud Abbas is interested in reaching an agreement that will be acceptable to both parties of the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. Yet, there will be forces at work that will seek to prevent Abbas from deviating from the standard list of Palestinian demands, including demands that Israel will not be able to accept. Those who want to thwart an Israeli-Palestinian agreement will use the various bodies of the UN system, including the UN's unique anti-Israel propaganda apparatus, to put insurmountable obstacles in Abbas's way. IN HIS memoir on the UN of 1975-76, the late US ambassador Patrick Moynihan called the UN "A Dangerous Place." More than 30 years later, the UN is still a dangerous place for the US, but it is a far more dangerous place for Israel. Israel's national security interests are at risk at the UN every day. For that reason it is best for the Israeli-PA talks to stay as far away from the UN as possible. At this, some might ask: Have we not been told that conditions for Israel are "getting better" at the UN? It is in this context that we need to draw a clear line between the national interests of the State of Israel and the level of job satisfaction of the staff of the Israeli Mission in New York. What has changed in recent years is the level of engagement of Israeli diplomats at the UN. They are increasingly participating in the work of those UN committees to which the West European and Others Group (WEOG) has assigned them. Seats on UN committees are allocated among the various regional groups. The logical regional group for Israel, the Asian Group, has denied membership to Israel since the establishment of the regional group system decades ago. Finally, in 2000, Israel was admitted to membership in WEOG, which includes the US, but even that acceptance was only on a temporary basis. So Israeli diplomats can now serve on UN committees, but only on the basis of assignment by WEOG. Technically, these diplomats are "elected" by the General Assembly, but if a regional group reaches agreement among its members on the assignment of, let us say, four members to four vacancies, there is no contest - and the four candidates are declared "elected" by consensus. But if in the case of WEOG's quota of seats no internal agreement were reached, and five candidates, including Israel, were to compete for four seats, it is simply not realistic to think that Israel would win that contest. Chances are that the US would not win such a contest either. DO ANY benefits accrue to Israel from the fact that its diplomats now serve on UN committees? Hardly. Much of the UN General Assembly's "work" is make-believe. The only committees that perform work that has an impact on the real world are the Israel-bashing committees: the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Human Rights Practices. As for other committees, we should note the finding, in 2005, of a high-level panel appointed by secretary-general Kofi Annan and chaired by former Thai prime minister Anand Panyarachun: "The General Assembly's…norm-making capacity is often squandered on debates about minutiae or thematic topics outpaced by real-world events. Its inability to reach closure on issues undermines its relevance. An unwieldy and static agenda leads to repetitive debates." Those concerned with Israel's national security must recognize what Prime Minister Olmert evidently has recognized: At this time, the UN is for Israel, as for the United States, a dangerous place. There has been no change for the better. The writer chairs the Board of Directors of the American Jewish International Relations Institute. He has served as Deputy US Representative in the UN Security Council and US Representative in the UN Commission on Human Rights.