The rhetoric and the reality

Ahmadinejad's speech prompts antisemitic rows at UN conference while Netanyahu commits to two-state solution to secure US support against Iran.


By Leon Symons in Geneva and Anshel Pfeffer, April 23, 2009
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Building bridges: Binyamin Netanyahu

Building bridges: Binyamin Netanyahu

Two contrasting aspects of the Middle East conflict were brought home this week in Geneva and Israel.

In Geveva, there was the circus of the UN’s conference on racism; and in Israel, the revelation to the JC that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will agree to the principle of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Jewish groups in Geneva were in uproar over the response among UN officials to the antisemitic opening-day speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. None of the UN hierarchy joined the walk-out, and UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi

Pillay later refused to meet Jewish groups who wanted to question the way the UN had handled the event.

Dividing nations: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Dividing nations: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Ms Pillay’s spokesman said that the High Commissioner was on the level of a government minister and “does not have space to see a group just when they want to. If she has seen any non-governmental organisations — and I doubt she has — they would have requested the meeting a long time ago”.

Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Jeremy Newmark, one of the leaders of the umbrella British group, the Jewish Human Rights Coalition, revealed: “The first time we asked for a meeting to discuss Durban II was last October when Navi Pillay was in London. We were refused.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Ms Pillay took questions at an open meeting. Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, asked her: “What lessons have been learned from the episode surrounding the President of Iran’s speech on Monday?”

The High Commissioner replied: “What we have learned is the importance of participation rather than leaving a vacuum [by those who walked out]. People who could have responded powerfully and could have counter-balanced what he said were not in the room and had left.”

Ms Pollock said afterwards: “I could not believe what she said. There was no condemnation of the antisemitism or racism that the Iranian President espoused. She seemed to suggest that he wasn’t the problem, it was the people who walked out of the room.”

But for all the heat and noise generated in Geneva, in Israel a potentially far more significant development was taking place.

In recent weeks, the Obama Administration has made it clear to the Netanyahu government that a commitment to a two-state solution is a pre-condition of a US guarantee to stand beside Israel in a future conflict with Iran and its nuclear programme.

Since becoming prime minister, Mr Netanyahu has demanded that the Palestinians recognise Israel, but his office has now confirmed that he will tell President Obama that he will enter negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without prior conditions.

“Netanyahu has never said that he is against two states,” said one of Mr Netanyahu’s advisers. “But there is no point in making such a commitment before we know that there is a Palestinian partner.” The adviser said that the PM would “have to make some kind of declarative concession, affirming the two-state solution as a future goal”.

The chill in the relationship between the two countries has been evident in the fact that it took weeks for Mr Netanyahu’s office to secure a first invitation to the Obama White House.

On Tuesday, the White House finally announced that it had invited Mr Netanyahu, along with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Palestinian Authority Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas. All three are expected to visit Washington separately next month.

In a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan at the White House, President Obama expressed understanding for Mr Netanyahu’s need to stabilise his coalition and formulate a diplomatic plan but he warned that “we can’t talk forever. At some point steps have to be taken so that people can see progress”.

Last updated: 4:51pm, April 23 2009