U.N. resolutions can affect our actions and our future. Therefore we, especially within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have to try and leverage and even enlist the U.N. to adopt resolutions that work in Israel’s favor.
Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni addresses students participating in the Model U.N. Program in Israel
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Jerusalem, 10 February 2008
Thank you all. I hope that I am appearing today in front of a U.N. that is friendlier than the one we usually encounter in New York; but I gather that each of you here represents a different country and, with your leave, I wish to welcome you all and also represent Israel to a certain extent in this context.
You are all aware, I am sure, of the fact that, for many years Israel has viewed that organization as a place where decisions must be made and where every state and every government must do first and foremost what is right for its own people. There is no need to repeat the old slogans disparaging the U.N. ("Um-Shmum") or to say, "it doesn’t matter what the other countries say, the main thing is what we do," which is true. But the problem is not only those outside of Israel say about what we do here, but that what "they" decide has meaning and consequences. In this context we live in a world where U.N. decisions are of significance. We live in a world that is increasingly becoming one which enforces its decisions on parties that have difficulty accepting them.
From Israel’s point of view, this sometimes works in our favor and sometimes against us. U.N. resolutions can affect our actions and our future. Therefore we, especially within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have to try and leverage and even enlist the U.N. to adopt resolutions that work in Israel’s favor.
U.N. Resolution 1701, which in effect put an end to the Lebanon War, reflects just such a process, in which we enlisted the nations of the world on our behalf: not only to stop the war and achieve a ceasefire – which would not have been enough from our standpoint – but to change the situation and establish future rules for a different country, a country other than Israel, namely for Lebanon, in a way that would affect our security, change the situation in southern Lebanon in physical terms, monitored by a U.N. force comprising troops from various countries.
This is, then, a case in point where we enlisted the U.N. in order to produce a resolution that represents the interests of the State of Israel. In other cases we have to take action in order to limit the damage from resolutions that might be passed. This can be done in one of two ways: First, in cases where we are concerned that any resolution taken by the U.N. might be unfavorable to us and may interfere with what we think should be done – we try to ensure as little U.N. involvement as possible. The second is a long-term process: constantly developing our ability to influence U.N. positions and decisions. This is not a matter of days or weeks, but a long-term process.
We must keep in mind that though this organization may be perceived as one presenting an international consensus, in fact each state presents its own interest. Naturally, we sometimes encounter groups of countries in which persuasion is far more difficult, because they a priori take a stance in keeping with the particular interests of the group. Here, Israel’s ability to influence the decision-making process, particularly with regard to the Arab world, or the non-aligned countries, or other similar groups, is far more limited and requires much harder work.
The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that there has been an erosion in the attitude of the international community towards Israel. If we think back for a moment to the 1947 U.N. partition resolution, establishing of the State of Israel as a Jewish state with an Arab state alongside it – if we were to try and imagine what would happen if that vote were taken today, I am not sure the outcome would have been the same. Just look at the Human Rights Council – a U.N. agency that is supposed to discuss extremely important issues, where there is clearly no chance that the debate there will be impartial.
Therefore, in order to influence decision-making, we must invest a lot of work on several levels. This work is both vis-à-vis leaders and vis-à-vis public opinion. When an ambassador of a certain nation –you, in this case – finally votes in the U.N., it is not simply his own decision, it is not a case of his sitting there and weighing the interests of his country at that point in time. He gets directives from the capital of his country. And in those various capitals sit leaders, who are politicians who work under pressure from the media and from public opinion in their country. And when it comes to Israel, and especially the Israel-Palestinian conflict, public opinion is biased.
Therefore, in order for our work to bear the desired fruit, we have to take action that goes far beyond what is happening in the U.N., whether the issue at hand is sanctions on Iran, or the Israel-Palestinian conflict, or the current situation in Gaza and the decisions taken by Israel. In order to bring about a situation in which we can take action and not be stopped by the U.N., we must act in the capitals of the various countries, within the public opinion of those countries. Naturally, our representatives at the U.N. have to do the same, in order ultimately to produce the desired result.
About ten days or two weeks ago there was a week-long debate at the Security Council, which was aiming for a condemnation of Israel. Libya is currently the President of the Council. The end result was an inability to reach consensus and therefore no condemnation. This is what I call damage control.
In this ongoing effort – and this advice I give you is also true for the situation in Gaza and Israel’s actions there – it is important to enlist the world in the name of the common denominator we share. I do not agree with the view that there is no common denominator between us and the rest of the world, even on the issue of this conflict. We must draw their attention to points that they may not be sufficiently aware of, beyond the many ready-made formulas and slogans. For example, when a child in Israel is injured and his leg is amputated, and the world mumbles something like, "Oh well, in a conflict there are always casualties on both sides," you must come back with: "No, it is not the same. An Israeli child injured by a terror organization which seeks out civilians and children in their own homes is not the same as an injury caused as a result of fighting terror, a fight that is legitimate by all standards of international law."
So yes, it is true that the family’s pain is the same – that is true and should not be contested. But when the world wants to judge us, let it judge according to the criteria it uses in its own back yard. In none of the countries that seek to judge us in the U.N. is first degree murder equivalent to involuntary manslaughter. So I ask them to judge us in the same way. Terror is terror is terror. There can be no justification for terror, just as they would not stand for it in their own homes.
Current developments in Gaza should be approached in a similar way. You must make it clear that what is happening there is not a specifically Israeli, local problem. Rather, it affects the ability of the Palestinians themselves, those who do want to live in peace, to reach an agreement with Israel. If we’re talking about the future Palestinian state, of which Gaza is supposed to be a part, it will not be able to exist in its current form. In other words, you have to portray the problem of Hamas not as some local Israeli problem which we have to deal with, but as a problem that affects anyone who wants peace – including that part of the Palestinian public which this terror organization controls, and including the so-called international community and the free world. Stated this way, you can suddenly enlist the support – within limit, always – more and more elements from among the international community.
What we need to say to them is: our ability to conduct the peace process with the moderates on the Palestinian side is contingent upon your continued insistence on the non-legitimacy of Hamas. Because if you start giving it legitimacy, or open the gates to Gaza, or talk with Hamas, the Palestinians will think that the way to achieve political achievements is through terror, and this is something Israel will not allow and you cannot afford. By saying this you succeed in creating a common ground, one that is not based on accusations, or inaction, or sitting and sulking because we were wronged. Creating a common ground is the right way to try and enlist support.
As I said earlier, ultimately each country has its own interests, and that remains true. But keep in mind that some leaders, those who truly understand what it’s all about, wish to do the right thing, and it is our duty, inter alia, to give them the tools to do so.
Therefore Israel has to present the facts of the conflict the way they are, but also to talk about Israel beyond of the conflict, and to come to the U.N. with suggestions for resolutions of the type we recently presented, about agricultural technologies. Believe me, although this has nothing to do with the conflict, you have no idea how difficult it was to enlist the support of countries who usually perceive any Israeli proposal as problematic. But such resolutions establish Israel as part of the world, as a state that cares about what is happening in Africa and in other places around the globe.
All this, I hope, will engender a better ability to work with the United Nations organization, the various parts of which you are representing here. This model UN program itself is one that presents Israel, and you as Israel’s next generation, not through the prism of the conflict, but as part of the international community, as a country that takes part in programs such as this; and by your mere participation in this program you are already contributing to this.