Tuesday, October 11, 2005

UN Gradually Becoming More Hospitable to Israel

Slow but steady. Really pathetic that it's taken so long for Israel to begin to be as accepted as, say, North Korea, but that's the power of the Arab League for you, as well as much anti-Semitism.

October 11, 2005
U.N. Is Gradually Becoming More Hospitable to Israel
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/11/international/middleeast/11nations.html
By WARREN HOGE
UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 10 - Israel recently proposed a United Nations resolution, it submitted its candidacy for a two-year seat on the Security Council, and its prime minister has been warmly received speaking to the General Assembly.

For any of the 190 other nations in the world organization, those would be routine events.

But in Israel's case, the resolution is the first the country has ever proposed, and the request for a Security Council seat presumes an end to the disdain with which the country has historically been treated at the United Nations.

The address by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on Sept. 15, was his first at the United Nations. It was delivered to a hall that has rung with denunciations of his country, where a tide of condemnatory resolutions has passed by lopsided votes and which Arab delegates regularly vacated whenever an Israeli rose to speak.

"These are steps that could not have happened even two years ago," said Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador, referring to the new efforts to gain acceptance. "It would have been unthinkable, suicidal, for us even to try them."

The steps represent Israel's effort to capitalize on moves by Secretary General Kofi Annan in the last 18 months to reduce the country's marginalization at the United Nations.

The first was a United Nations seminar on anti-Semitism in June 2004, where Mr. Annan said, "Let us acknowledge that the United Nations' record on anti-Semitism has at times fallen short of our ideals."

Last November, a condemnation of anti-Semitism was included for the first time in the annual resolution against religious intolerance. It got 177 approving votes. In January, the General Assembly held a special session to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps and installed an exhibit on Auschwitz in the headquarters lobby.

In March, Mr. Annan attended the opening of the new wing of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem and was the only foreign dignitary among the visiting heads of state to speak there.

In June, Mr. Gillerman was selected as a vice president of the General Assembly, and on Sept. 20 he became the first Israeli to preside over the Assembly in 52 years. He introduced the foreign minister, Silvan Shalom.

Mr. Shalom told the delegates that "Israel's relations with the U.N. are better today than they have ever been," though he quickly added, "Nevertheless, they are still far from what they should be."

Other reactions have also mixed satisfaction with wariness.

"The bias against Israel has been institutionalized for 50 years, so to expect a miracle in 18 months is having unrealistic expectations," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "We should welcome the progress but realize that there is a long way to go, and Israel still has to bargain and barter to be recognized the way any other nation is."

Harold Tanner, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said: "There is a definite change in feeling. Many positive things have occurred over the past year, yet it is still far from being fair and equitable for Israel."

The bias against Israel began with Arab nations' objections that Israel had no right to exist, and the numbers of foes of Israel at the United Nations swelled when cold war divisions led many Eastern bloc countries and members of the nonaligned movement to join the opposition. The changes result in part from continuing pressure by the United States, Israel's principal defender at the United Nations. Since 1972 Washington has cast 39 vetoes to protect Israel from Security Council censure.

Acknowledging the American influence on the process, Edward Mortimer, a senior aide to Mr. Annan, said, "Israel and its supporters have a lot of weight when it comes to American politics and American policy, meaning it has an impact on relations between the U.N. and the U.S., which obviously is very important to all of us."

Mr. Foxman said he thought Israel's cause was also helped by the United Nations' being thrown on the defensive over mismanagement and corruption in the oil-for-food program, which allowed Iraq to sell some of its oil, despite sanctions, to meet civilian needs.

"When the U.N. found itself being attacked for scandal and irresponsibility, one way to establish responsibility was to stand up to this institutional bias against Israel," Mr. Foxman said.

Israel's isolation at the United Nations began to ease in 2000, when it was admitted to one of the regional groups that make committee assignments, the 30-member Western European and Others group, which also includes the United States, Australia and Canada.

But even that came with restrictions. Israel can take part only at headquarters in New York and not places like Geneva, Vienna and Rome, the headquarters of various United Nations operations.

That is a limitation that Israel intends to push to have removed, Mr. Gillerman said.

Another objective is to disband three special committees that are considered forums for Israel-bashing - the Secretariat's Division for Palestinian Rights, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices.

That could come about if in the current management reform negotiations, Mr. Annan succeeds in gaining the right to recommend the closing of long-running committees that have outlived any usefulness and continue to drain the budget.

Another goal is to increase the number of Israelis elected to forums and committees. Mr. Gillerman argued that Israelis were well equipped by education and experience to help on many issues of concern to the United Nations that have no complicating association with the conflict in the Middle East.

"We are not a one-issue country," he said, "and we have to stop being a one-issue mission."

The General Assembly resolution on Israel designates Jan. 27 as an annual international day of commemoration for Holocaust victims. The country's candidacy for the Security Council is for 2018-2020, the next available opening that has not been filled by candidates selected by their regional groups.

Israel and the United Nations have been interrelated from the beginning. "Israel's very self-determination comes from the U.N.," said Amy Goldstein, director of United Nations affairs for B'nai B'rith. "Its legitimacy in the international community stems from the vote for membership in 1949."

Antagonism between Israel and the United Nations also goes back a long way. In a much noted comment to his cabinet in 1955, Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, dismissed the organization with a put-down using its Hebrew acronym. "UM, shmum," he said, or, "The U.N. - it's nothing."

The nadir in relations occurred in 1975 with passage in the General Assembly of a resolution equating Zionism with racism. The measure stayed on the books until 1991, when it was revoked after a campaign led by the United States.

Ms. Goldstein said she worried about the permanence of the new changes. "These are not institutional changes," she said. "They're changes in the atmospherics."

"We've seen tremendous strides due to the personal commitment of the secretary general," she added, "but the question is what will happen in a year, when his term is over. It's not clear that the General Assembly and the member states have the same commitment to normalizing Israel's status."

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Blogger Deepa said...

I agree with you. There has been slow progress for Israel at the United Nations. High time Israel got its rightful place. This is Deep from Israeli Uncensored News

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