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Netanyahu must take the UN seriously

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November 24, 2016 23:17

The choice of Danny Danon as Israel's UN ambassador has elicited scorn and derision in Israel and around the world.

An ultra-nationalist hawk and notorious for using undiplomatic language, Mr Danon has publicly opposed the two-state solution and called for Israel to annul the Oslo Accords and annex the West Bank.

Mr Danon's criticism of the government's handling of the 2014 Gaza operation led Benjamin Netanyahu to summarily fire his then-deputy defence minister.

Analysts believe Mr Netanyahu's decision to dispatch Mr Danon to New York is designed to remove a political rival. Some suspect his appointment is also intended as a slight to an institution with a long-standing anti-Israel bias.

Mr Netanyahu served as Israel's UN representative (1984-1988) and does not hide his disdain for the organisation. Addressing the General Assembly in September 2011, Mr Netanyahu characterised it as "the theatre of the absurd"; a production in which Israel is the permanent pantomime villain; a charade in which Israel is singled out for condemnation more often than all other nations combined; a tragicomedy in which Muammar Gaddafi's Libya chaired the UN's Commission on Human Rights and Saddam Hussein's Iraq headed the Committee on Disarmament.

This farce was encapsulated by the 1975 Zionism is Racism resolution. In response, Israel's then-ambassador, Chaim Herzog, delivered one of the most dramatic speeches in the UN's history.

Mr Herzog regarded it as "befitting that the [UN], which began life as an anti-Nazi alliance, should, 30 years later, find itself on its way to becoming the world centre of antisemitism."

Particularly disconcerting was that Israel now found itself victim of the decolonisation narrative. Zionism was to Jews what the African and Asian national liberation movements were to their people. Yet the Jewish struggle for self-determination was now lumped together with colonialism and racism. Mr Herzog concluded his oration by ripping up the resolution, symbolising Israel's frustration with an organisation that had become morally bankrupt.

The resolution passed decisively. It was only rescinded in 1991. While this was the only UN resolution to be revoked, it has done little to change Israel's rapport with the organisation.

The Afro-Asian bloc still comprises the bulk of the UN's automatic anti-Israel majority through the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), currently chaired by Iran.

However, some nations have begun to dissent from NAM's anti-Zionist line. In July, 41 nations voted in the UN Human Rights Council to censure Israel for its conduct in the recent Gaza conflict. Only the US voted against. This was predictable. Of greater interest were the nations who abstained: Kenya, Ethiopia, Paraguay, Macedonia and, most notably, India.

A founding member of NAM, India's foreign policy traditionally emphasised solidarity between countries in the global south; consequently, it adopted pro-Arab positions at the UN.

However, India's foreign policy has shifted as its economy liberalised. It has emerged as Israel's largest market for defence equipment and the two countries share common concerns over terrorism. Effective personal diplomacy has strengthened the bond. Mr Netanyahu established warm relations with Narendra Modi; the Indian PM tweeted his congratulations in Hebrew after his counterpart's election victory. Israel's Foreign Ministry built on these foundations.

Nevertheless, India's Foreign Office stressed its "long-standing position on support to the Palestinian cause" remained unchanged.

Mr Modi can only justify his more nuanced Middle Eastern policies if Israel is seen as working towards a peace settlement. Burgeoning military relations are insufficient. Mr Danon must champion a two-state solution.

Mr Danon must also convince the Obama administration that Mr Netanyahu's government is committed to creating a Palestinian state. Mr Obama denounced Mr Netanyahu for his election eve declaration that Palestinian independence was unthinkable. Mr Danon's appointment will not have assuaged US concerns.

With France preparing a Security Council resolution on establishing a Palestinian state through the UN, Mr Danon must assure America that Israel supports a two-state solution and it should veto any externally imposed initiative.

The great Israeli diplomat Abba Eban declared the UN was "a stage on which anything can be enacted - from high drama to sordid farce". Mr Danon has been cast in a leading role. For Israel's sake, let us hope he gives a stellar performance.

November 24, 2016 23:17

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