ISRAEL AND THE UN: THE NEXT FIFTY YEARS

Ambassador Gad Yaacobi

Davis Institute
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

May 1995

In 1945 there were no isolationists.

The War destroyed any illusion that countries could build walls to keep the inside in, and the outside out. The world was becoming one, in a process that would only accelerate with time. It was for this world that the United Nations was established.

Unfortunately, the Cold War prevented the UN from living up to its full potential and from realizing its universal mission. Division and difference emerged where unity and partnership were supposed to reign.

Now, we find ourselves at the beginning of a new era. But for all its newness, it is teaching us an old lesson a lesson that seems to have been lost in the frozen blocs of the Cold War: The world is one. Even more now than fifty years ago.

Environmental problems pay no attention to national borders. The CNN-ization of the world is already becoming a dominant factor. Economic hardship on one continent makes itself felt on other continents too. Islamic fundamentalist terrorists strike, not only in the Middle East, but also in London, Buenos Aires and New York. The potential of rogue states like Iran, Iraq and North Korea to get nuclear weapons endangers all people no matter who they are, or where they live.

The Cold War kept many ethnic, national, religious and tribal conflicts in cold storage. But with the fall of the Soviet Union, these rivalries heated up all over the world.

Approximately fifty violent conflicts, regional and internal, are raging in the world today. Since the beginning of 1993, they have claimed the lives of over two million people. In the past two years, millions of people have been forcibly displaced or exiled from their homes. In Rwanda and Burundi, hundreds of thousands. In the former Yugoslavia, tens of thousands. The list goes on.

Most of these conflicts are ethnic or religious. Some are long-standing, as in the Balkans, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, India, China and Peru. Some are newer, stemming from the end of Soviet domination in parts of Europe and Asia as in Azerbaijan and Afghanistan. Some are the outcome of Islamic fundamentalism as in Algeria, Egypt and Sudan. Some are the product of ethnic minorities’ demands for self-determination as in Kurdistan.

In most instances, these conflicts are occurring in and among non-democratic countries. Never has one democracy declared war on another. In these countries, mechanisms built-in to the democratic system diffuse tensions and produce amicable solutions to problems. Still, we have to remember that of the 185 member states of the United Nations, approximately 140 are not democratic countries.

This is our global village; And it touches all of its citizens. Locking the doors and bolting the windows won’t give anyone any protection. The only option is to go outside, and work together to make the global village a safer, better place to live.

The common targets are clear: Stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Helping peace initiatives. Fighting radicalism and terrorism. Cooperating in combatting poverty. Enhancing democracy All need to be the common concern of the entire international community. These are the elements to change the New World Disorder into a New World Order.

Let no country turn its back on the world. The painful cost of isolationism has to be remembered always.

The United Nations, for all its shortcomings, still is the best and the only means for international cooperation. It is the only organization with the ability to encourage and coordinate international action on a broad scale. The UN is not perfect, but it is trying to adapt to a new era to become clearer about is goals, and more focused about its means and ends. In some areas it has been more successful than others. Most important is, that it continue to move in the right direction. To decide clearly what it should and shouldn’t do, and what it can and can’t do.

Israel is also facing a new era. The end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the superpower patron of the Arab states. The Gulf War. The peace process that began in Madrid, and the Declaration of Principles with the Palestinians that paved the way for progress on many other tracks.

The developments in the world and the region had a profound effect on Israel’s relations with the international community. This has given us the opportunity to reexamine our objectives with regard to the international community and the United Nations.

We have a new agenda for a new era. When I was appointed as Ambassador to the UN in October 1992, we set four goals:

– Transformation: Changing the UN stance towards Israel; – Integration: Increasing involvement and participation in UN activities; – Cooperation with other Member States and with the UN system; and – Normalization of Israel’s relationship with the UN.

We are able to meet these goals because of the changes in the world and the region, coupled with the new policies of Israel’s government.

Israel is taking its place at the table of nations. General Assembly resolutions are beginning to reflect the new reality. We have successfully worked for the elimination of obsolete resolutions that don’t serve peace. Of the 30-or-so negative resolutions raised annually, over twenty were either not introduced, not brought to a vote, or changed in the last two General Assemblies.

For the past two years, the General Assembly for the first time has adopted a resolution that supports the peace process, and calls for regional cooperation. 149 countries supported the resolution. Only Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Iran opposed it. It is the first positive resolution on the Middle East since the Security Council adopted resolutions 242 and 338 more than 20 years ago.

For the first time, Israelis are being elected to UN bodies. In November 1993, the former Director of the Ministry of Justice, Mayer Gabay, was elected as a justice on the UN Administrative Tribunal. He was the first Israeli candidate elected to a UN post in thirty years. Dr. Carmel Shalev was elected to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; Professor David Kretzmer was elected to the UN Human Right Committee; And Judith Karp was elected in February to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The General Assembly endorsed an anti-terrorism resolution which calls for international cooperation on this grave matter. Terrorism against Israel and Israelis is finally being recognized here for what it is: murderous acts that should be and are being condemned.

Israel also continues to improve relations with UN peace-keeping forces in the region UNIFIL and UNDOF and with UN agencies functioning in the territories. UN allocations to social and economic development in the territories will be about $300 million this year, compared to about $200 million two years ago. This aid is vital to laying the foundations for peace.

UNDP became the executive branch for transferring financial support to the Palestinians, until the Palestinian Authority is capable of taking over the responsibility itself.

Our relations with the Member States have also improved significantly. Since the DOP was signed, 29 countries established diplomatic relations with Israel, 10 of them Muslim or Arab. Some of the contacts, as well as some of the signings, took place here. We now have diplomatic relations with 155 countries out of the 185 members of the UN. With most of the 30 states we do not have diplomatic relations with yet, we have regular working relations.

This expansion of ties has been invaluable in helping us advance our interests in the international community and at the UN.

Still, there is a long way to go.

* Israel has to be accepted for membership in a geo-political group. 184 countries out of 185 at the UN enjoy this basic right.. Except Israel. This violation of the principle of universality cannot be allowed to continue. For the time being, we are looking to the Western European and Others Group, which is made up of democracies on three continents.

* We want to see the Palestinian bodies at the UN eliminated. This includes the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat, the so-called Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, and the so-called Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, among others.

* And there is still much more in the General Assembly resolutions on the Middle East that needs improvement. But certainly, things are moving in the right direction.

* * *

This month, we dealt with two major issues at the United Nations: The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference, and the Security Council debate on the expropriation in Jerusalem.

With regard to the NPT conference, Israel had two main interests: to see the treaty extended for an indefinite period, and to ensure that Israel would not be singled out for criticism. In both areas, we were very pleased by the outcome.

As you know, the conference decided by consensus on the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Moreover, the resolutions that it adopted did not single out Israel, despite intense pressure applied by Egypt and other countries. We hope that the results of the conference will help diffuse the issue in the future.

The conference lasted for about one month. Through it all, we worked in close cooperation with the US mission, headed by Ambassador Madeleine Albright, and with other ambassadors to the UN. The United States deserves much credit for leading the effort to get a consensus on the treaty’s indefinite extension.

The other issue I mentioned the Security Council deliberations on Jerusalem began even before the NPT conference ended.

This issue was a very problematic one, because there was an international consensus against expropriation, and because the Christians and Moslems also attach great importance and religious significance to Jerusalem.

We have to judge the outcome of the Security Council debate against the fact that all the other UN member states opposed our action. In light of that, the result was the minimum, the least, that the other side could have hoped for. They debated, but no resolution was adopted. Even if the US had not vetoed the resolution, by the time it reached its final draft form, it contained no condemnation of Israel.

The Security Council has not condemned Israel for more than two years. This, in spite of the fact that the Arabs requested to convene the Council several times, regarding the massacre in Hebron in February 1994, settlements and the peace process in February 1995, and the recent Jerusalem issue. The UN took a strong stance on the massacre in Hebron last year. But do not misread it. The Security Council condemned the attack, not Israel. Indeed, Israel condemned the massacre as well, using even stronger terms than the UN.

At the same time, the Security Council has condemned terrorism against Israel and Israelis for the first time in its history. After the bus bombings in Afula and Hadera, the UN’s condemnation was speedy and unequivocal. It also condemned the bombing of the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires and the Israeli Embassy in London in August, the bus attack in Tel Aviv last October, the attack at Beit Lid in January, and the two terrorist bombings in Gaza last month.

* * *

The change in the UN’s relation to Israel and the Middle East is part of its broader process of change. For all the similarities end of one era, beginning of another 1995 is very different from 1945. It is even more different from 1975, when the Cold War and the Arab-Israeli conflict were raging, and when the geopolitical order was rigid, not fluid.

We are encouraging and encouraged by the improvements in Israel-UN relations. We want to take a more active part in the international community.

On the world stage, expectations for the UN were raised following the end of the Cold War. The expectations were too high. Much of the disappointment and frustration with the UN during the past years is probably an outcome of this.

But dwelling on the past does not help to build for the future. Israel, the United Nations and the international community have to decide what the goals are; how well we have accomplished already; and what we need to do now to bring them closer to realization.

Isolationism in any form whether it is because of a misguided notion that what happens across the ocean only happens across the ocean, or because one disparages the UN as ineffective or incompetent or irreconcilably hostileIsolation in any form is a trap that we should not fall into. The issues we

confront affect the entire world. The entire world must therefore confront them together.

Thank you.