The Year in Review Arabs Find New Way of Isolating Israel at the UN
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The Year in Review Arabs Find New Way of Isolating Israel at the UN

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The 31st session of the General Assembly, which recessed Dec. 22 in order to reconvene next spring to deal with world economic problems, was distinguished by its low key discussions and by what many diplomats described as its “business-like atmosphere.”

Paradoxically, however, the Arabs who injected a great deal of venom and controversy in previous Assembly sessions by their emotional and virulent attacks on Israel appear to be the real winners in this year’s session. Armed with an automatic majority–a highly effective weapon in the diplomatic battlefield of the world organization–the Arabs adopted a new tactic this year: “moderation.”

Aware of the fact that their extreme, one-sided resolutions, such as last year’s resolution equating Zionism with racism, only boomerang against the Arabs themselves, the anti-Israel forces at the UN concluded that Israel could be more effectively-isolated by introducing “moderate” resolutions which Israel’s traditional allies, namely, the United States and Western Europe, could support.


This new tactic was effectively used by the Egyptians in the debate on the Middle East. At the end of the week-long debate, spiked with the usual anti-Israel rhetoric, the Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a carefully worded Egyptian resolution calling for the reconvening of the Geneva Mideast peace conference. It was approved by a vote of 122-2 with eight abstentions. Only the U.S. and Israel cast negative ballots.

Israel’s isolation, along with the U.S., was underscored by the fact that not one European country opposed the resolution and, in fact, most of them supported it. As a result of the vote, Israel and the U.S. appeared to be against reconvening the Geneva talks while in reality they supported the resumption of the talks but without the participation of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The catch in the Egyptian-sponsored resolution was that the PLO’s participation in a resumed Geneva conference was not mentioned directly but only implied. American Ambassador William Scranton, in explaining the U.S. objection to the resolution, said the measure, which called on UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim to resume his contacts with the parties in the conflict, “is phrased in such a way as to imply that the PLO should be one of the parties consulted in preparation for the Geneva conference.” In that connection, he stressed that the U.S. believes that additional participants in Geneva is a question “which can only be addressed by the original parties themselves.”

Anticipating the negative results for Israel by opposing a resolution that appeared to be moderate, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Chaim Herzog, introduced a draft resolution, Israel’s first in the Assembly, to show the Jewish State’s support for the resumption of the Geneva talks. The draft called for the reconvening of the Geneva peace conference “without delay” with the participation of Israel, Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The PLO was not mentioned.

Although Israel had to withdraw its draft after the Arabs introduced an amendment calling for the participation of the PLO in the Geneva conference, the Israeli move clarified the position that its opposition was aimed solely at the PLO’s participation in the conference and that, in fact, the Jewish State is ready to go to Geneva “even tomorrow,” as Herzog declared.


The contention that the Arabs score much better when they are “moderate” was clearly demonstrated in the same Mideast debate when Syria introduced a more extreme resolution calling for the resumption of the Geneva talks with the participation of the PLO. This resolution was approved by a vote of 91-11 with 29 abstentions. Not even one West European country supported the resolution. Five of these countries–part of the nine-member European Economic Community–abstained. They were France, Italy, Ireland, Belgium and Luxembourg.

This new pattern of voting among the nine, which in previous years voted in unison on Mideast issues, is a cause of concern for Israel. While in the past all nine voted against anti-Israel resolutions or some of them abstained, there was an erosion in the support for Israel in this year’s Assembly session. Only Britain, West Germany and The Netherlands continued to demonstrate their traditional support for the Jewish State.

The Arab offensive against Israel received another boost with the Assembly’s adoption of the recommendation of the 20-member Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The resolution called for Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The resolution also called for the return of the Palestinian refugees “to their homes and properties” in what is now Israel. The vote was 90-16 with 30 abstentions.

Although the resolution cannot be implemented without the approval of the Security Council–the Council rejected the Committee’s recommendations last June after the U.S. vetoed it–its adoption gave the Arabs and the PLO, which is to head the new state according to the resolution, a propaganda victory. The status of the PLO, which was at ebb due to the civil war in Lebanon, was strengthened as a result of the resolution.

The endorsement by the Assembly of an independent Palestinian state also coincided with reports from Arab capitals that the PLO was ready to accept a West Bank-Gaza Strip state. The timing of the two developments can lull world public opinion into believing that the Arabs no longer seek to destroy Israel and that their only aim is to have a state for the Palestinians.


In the opinion of top Israeli diplomats at the United Nations, including Herzog, the only resolution that constituted a “real” defeat for Israel this year was the “moderate” Egyptian resolution at the end of the Mideast debate. Otherwise, the Israelis argue, Israel fared “pretty well” in this year’s Assembly.

The Israelis note that the Arabs have an “automatic majority” of more than 70 votes on any resolution they want to pass, Israel, thus, has to maneuver with the rest of the votes available–about 75. Therefore, the Israelis explain, if some 55 countries don’t support an anti-Israel resolution– either by voting against it, abstaining or not participating in the vote–Israel is not isolated and the Arabs’ attack can be considered repelled.

This pattern of voting, where at least 55 countries did not vote against Israel, emerged in two central issues, the Palestinian state resolution and the apartheid debate where the Assembly adopted a resolution singling out Israel’s relations with the South African regime.

The issues of Zionism, Israel’s expulsion from the UN and the PLO–three topics that made the Mideast a central controversy during the two previous Assemblies–were almost nil this year. The measure equating Zionism with racism was not recalled this year by any related resolution. The demand of the Arabs, which caused an uproar last year, to suspend Israel from the Assembly, was not repeated.

Even the PLO, whose leader Yasir Arafat appeared in triumph two years ago to address the Assembly, was barely mentioned except toward the end of the session in the resolution on the establishment of the Palestinian state. The lack of any attention paid to the PLO this year was attributed to their role in the Lebanese civil war.

A top Israeli diplomat at the UN explained that the Arabs “realized that by their extreme demands they caused revulsion that in the final analysis works against their interests. This was the reason for their low-key approach this year. In a way, their action became more sophisticated and this is a cause for alarm to Israel.”

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