Foreign Policy Blogs

A Few Thoughts on Israel at the UN

Netanyahu glowers at the UN

Netanyahu glowers at the UN (Photo: CNN)

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu recently spoke at the UN General Assembly meeting on behalf of the Jewish state. He spoke at length about Iran (67 mentions by my count), the peace process and PA President Abbas’s comments the previous day before the international body, Syria, ISIS and generally about Israel’s courage and fortitude in the face of a hostile world.

Read the full text of the speech here.

Peace with the Palestinians
On the subject of peace, Bibi expressed his frustration with Abbas for refusing to return to the negotiating table without preconditions. He stated,

“I am prepared to immediately—immediately—resume direct peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without any preconditions whatsoever. Unfortunately, President Abbas said yesterday that he is not prepared to do this.”

He continued,

“Well, I hope he changes his mind, because I remain committed to a vision of two states for two peoples, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state” [emphasis mine].

For such an articulate speaker, Netanyahu has a strange blindspot to his own preconditions. The italicized clause above, immediately following his bemoaning Abbas’s unwillingness to negotiate without preconditions, actually lays out two preconditions of its own!

1) That a future Palestinian state will be demilitarized and
2) That it will recognize a Jewish state.

The first point is generally understood (although certainly not universally accepted) to be a starting point for an eventual peace plan. The second point however is extremely controversial, seen by many as a roadblock created by Netanyahu specifically to tie Abbas’s hands and prevent the Palestinian leadership from sitting down at the table in the first place.

Global opinion of these points aside, Netanyahu is literally laying out two preconditions to peace talks, in the same breath that he is scolding Abbas for refusing to set aside his own preconditions.

Dealings with Iran
Speaking to Iran, Netanyahu invoked the awe-inspiring story of survival that is the Jewish people, enduring through millennia versus all odds and against countless enemies. He invoked the Babylonians, the Romans and the Nazis. He then cautioned:

“[The Iranian] regime would be wise to consider this: I stand here today representing Israel, a country 67 years young, but the nation-state of a people nearly 4,000 years old. Yet the empires of Babylon and Rome are not represented in this hall of nations. Neither is the Thousand Year Reich. Those seemingly invincible empires are long gone.”

This is amazing and worth reflection. But the reason I mention it is: the Iranian (Persian) people have been around even longer than the Jews. Does it mean they (or anyone!) will last forever? Of course not. But survival through the ages is a strange point to rub in the noses of a people that are arguably even older.

Resolution Overkill
Later, Netanyahu stated,

“In four years of horrific violence in Syria, more than a quarter of a million people have lost their lives. That’s more than ten times—more than ten times—the number of Israelis and Palestinians combined who have lost their lives in a century of conflict between us. Yet last year, this Assembly adopted 20 resolutions against Israel and just one resolution about the savage slaughter in Syria.”

On this point, I couldn’t agree with him more. In my opinion, one of the gravest sins that the international community has made regarding Israel is attempting to hold the Jewish state to standards which no other nation is held.

It is bad for Israel — it paints them a pariah. It’s bad for the UN — it undermines their role as a just, deliberative body. And perhaps most relevantly, it’s bad for the Palestinians and the peace process — it is easy for Israel to dismiss all judgement when they are so obviously and unfairly being held to unattainable standards. Due to this over-scrutiny, bordering on the absurd, Israel can casually bat away all criticism. Though not every critique is unfair, when seen through the lens of such hypocrisy, Israel can simply say: It’s not us. It’s you. And when reflecting on the overbearing burden of attention paid it, they are right. It isn’t them.

Israel is not perfect, but can anyone really claim them worthy of 21—out of a total of 25!—UN resolutions in a year? With all the atrocities happening in the world, anyone who believes that 85% were perpetrated by Israel is either lying or ill-informed.

Down the Hall, a Deputy Speaks Out
On the same day that Netanyahu addressed his colleagues at the UN, his deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely gave her own address. At a UN meeting of countries who donate to the PA, she took the floor and equated all Palestinians to terrorists. As reported by Haaretz, after speaking about the Jewish right to ascend to the Temple Mount (something that is currently causing riots in the region):

“Hotovely continued with criticism of the Palestinians, saying that while an Israeli child dreams of being an engineer so he can be part of the start-up nation, a Palestinian child dreams of being an engineer so he can prepare explosive devices and perpetrate terror attacks.”

The following speaker was Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. He informed the body that he had “written [an] address but I don’t plan to give it because I can’t not respond to what we’ve heard from the Israeli representative.”

According to Haaretz:

“The incident became particularly embarrassing when Hotovely interrupted Judeh several times to argue with him. This was contrary to protocol for the meeting, which was not an open discussion but a series of short speeches. One person in the room said that the meeting’s chairman, Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, had to call Hotovely to order twice.”

For those who are less familiar with the role of a foreign minister in Israel, it is equatable with an American Secretary of State. Currently, the position is being handled by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Hotovely is his deputy.

While I stand by my argument that Israel is vastly, and unfairly, over-scrutinized at the UN, it probably wouldn’t hurt if they rounded up an actual diplomat to represent them before the international body. I’m just saying.

Follow me on Twitter @jlemonsk

 
  • Emmanuel JL

    While it’s technically true that Netanyahu has preconditions of his own, I would say that precondition 2) is practically a given for any lasting peace negotiation. It’s more of a technical precondition rather than a practical one which is why he states he doesn’t have preconditions. The point of peace negotiations would be to have a lasting peace negotiation to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Any peace agreement between both groups wouldn’t do much for the long term if both groups weren’t recognized. It would probably be fine to have minor agreements in the interim without that recognition, but any lasting agreement needs to have that recognition. It would be pointless for Israel to engage in negotiations without it.

    • Josh K

      I disagree that it is a given, or simply a “technical” precondition. Netanyahu is not saying that the Palestinians must recognize Israel’s right to exist (that would be a given for peace talks), he is saying that they must recognize Israel’s Jewish nature. This was a new caveat to the peace talks, circa his Bar Ilan speech in 2009. He is asking Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, despite a 20% Arab population. This isn’t a “gimme.”

      Even if it were, it is still a precondition. One could make the same argument for Abbas refusing to come to the table while settlement expansion continues. There won’t be settlement expansion in a peace deal, so why should they even start talks while new communities are being built throughout the West Bank?

      Regardless of one’s opinions on either of these points, refusing to speak until they are settled is the definition of a precondition.

      • Emmanuel JL

        I apologize for misreading the point, as I read it as recognizing the Jewish state (as in recognizing the state) rather than recognizing A Jewish State; which is an important distinction.

        I suppose you’re right then. I do believe the controversy regarding the official definition and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is overblown especially in light of many other nations that are officially “religious”. However, it’s definitely a precondition and not one without controversy within Israel itself. It’s probably a bit dishonest for Netanyahu to claim there are no preconditions.

        I’ve learned quite a bit today while reading about this. Most articles or opinions posted on the conflict are blatantly one-sided. Thanks!

        • Josh K

          Happy to clarify. Check me out on twitter (@jlemonsk). I tweet often about Israel and the region.

Author

Josh Klemons
Josh Klemons

Josh Klemons has an MA in International Peace and Conflict Resolution with a concentration in the Middle East from American University. He has lived, worked and studied in Israel and done extensive traveling throughout the region. He once played music with Hadag Nachash.

He now works as a digital storyteller/strategist with brands on finding, honing and telling their stories online. Follow him on twitter @jlemonsk and check him out at www.joshklemons.com.

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