Special Interview with Chaim Herzog
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Special Interview with Chaim Herzog

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Israeli Premier Menachem Begin, in his recent visit to the United States, announced that UN Ambassador Chaim Herzog, who was appointed to his post two years ago by the previous Labor government, will continue to be Israel’s chief delegate to the world organization.

In a special interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, held at the Israeli Mission headquarters here, Herzog, who agreed to serve one more year as UN Ambassador, discussed and assessed the situation in the Mideast and the prospects for progress there, Israel’s position in the UN and related issues. Following are excerpts of the 60-minute interview:


Q. The present Likud government in Israel is pursuing a different foreign policy than the previous Israeli government which you have been representing for the last two years. Isn’t there a conflict that you, who are identified with the Labor Party, will be now a spokesman of the right-wing Likud government?

A. First of all, an ambassador represents his country, not a political party. Secondly, I do not see any real problem here because in our situation the main issue isn’t the policy of this or that government of Israel–which may very–but rather the policy of our Arab neighbors, and I personally have not noticed any change in the attitude of the Arab states. The crux of the problem is not the substantive issues of territories, Palestinian Arabs or settlements in the (administered) territories. All of these problems did not exist between 1949 to 1967, and yet there was no move toward peace with Israel.

The crux of the problem is the willingness or unwillingness of the Arab states to meet with us at the negotiating table in order to work toward an agreement on a peace treaty. The very act of sitting down with Israel presupposes acceptance of Israel. When we in Israel and the Jewish world debate among ourselves the different types of solutions, we are in fact putting the cart before the horse and playing chess with ourselves, for there are no indications that they (the Arabs) are willing to sit face to face with us. The new Israeli initiative (Begin’s peace plan) has put the ball in the Arab court and one can only hope their reply will be favorable.

Q. In his peace plan Begin said that Israel is ready to attend a reconvened Geneva conference as of Oct. 10. In your view, is the meeting likely to take place?

A. In principle there should be no problem reconvening the Geneva conference as of Oct. 10, because Begin, in his approach suggested leaving everything open without coordinating subjects in advance.


Q. Do you think that the question of the Palestine Liberation Organization presence in Geneva is an obstacle to the reconvening of the conference?

A. If the Arabs insist on PLO participation in Geneva then Begin’s alternative (of proximity talks) will apply. I have always felt from discussions in UN corridors that there is a very considerable degree of disenchantment on the part of many Arab delegates with the PLO. I feel that their support of the PLO in the UN is, to a great degree, lip service, and I think that they will be very hesitant to forego Geneva because of the PLO. I would estimate that the Mideast being what it is, the Arabs are busy looking for a face-saving device in order not to be placed in the position of saying no to Geneva. This situation is, however, complicated now by the internecine strife in the Arab world.

Q. Mentioning Arab strife, what impact, if any, did the Egyptian-Libyan clashes have on the Arab-Israeli conflict?

A. I believe the Egyptian-Libyan clash only highlights the fact that the Arab world is torn more than ever before. But we should have no illusions when it comes to the hatred of Israel, if, to judge by my experience at the UN, they manage to patch up their differences. My feeling is that the more serious the conflict between the Arab states the less willing they are to appear moderate on the issue of negotiating with Israel.

Q. What are the prospects for Israel in the upcoming UN General Assembly?

A. As long as there is a possibility of meeting in Geneva, Israel will be subjected to less pressure in the UN. If Geneva should not appear a realistic possibility then I anticipate a renewal of the attacks on Israel.


Q. Is there a danger of a new war in the Mideast in the near future?

A. All the public statements by the Arab leaders maintain that they are retaining the military option in addition to political option. It is impossible to estimate whether in fact the Arab countries would like to implement their threats of war. My own feeling is, after analyzing the inter-Arab situation and the internal situations in various Arab countries, that their enthusiasm for war has very much dampened, and in no way matches their public statements.

I believe they are not as keen to go to war as it would appear. I should warn, however, that this evaluation is based on a logical assessment of various factors and logic frequently plays no part in Arab calculations.


Q. A few months ago U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young claimed that Israel’s position at the UN has improved. Do you agree?

A. There is no doubt whatsoever that Israel has had much easier a year in the UN compared to the previous year. The fact is that during the year of the 31st General Assembly (1975-1976) we had not only the vile, pernicious anti-Zionism resolution, but, in addition, there was a concentrated attack on Israel practically every month in the Security Council, except the month when the U.S. held the presidency of the Council.

In the year of the 32nd General Assembly (1976-1977) we have had so far one Security Council meeting against Israel, which ended by being postponed and in which the Egyptians suffered a major setback. Many factors contributed to this improvement: Israel’s unrelenting fight; the war in Lebanon and the strife in the Arab world; the concentration of the UN on southern Africa; the proud and strong reaction of world and particularly American Jewry; and of course the efforts of the U.S. government.

Ambassador Young is performing a successful job for the U.S. in the UN. He is the outstanding personality today in the UN and as such a very important element in creating an atmosphere of moderation. As for his attitude toward Israel and the Jewish people, he is a good friend and his heart is in the right place.

Q. In view of these developments would you say that the UN is gaining a better public image?

A. No. While the attacks on Israel have eased off, the Arabs are continuing to destroy the UN and it looks as if they will yet succeed, because the process of politicization in UN specialized agencies continues, with the member states apparently power- less to do anything.

Last week the Economic and Social Council voted in Geneva to admit a terrorist organization like the PLO as a full member of the Economic Council of Western Asia (ECWA). The utter incongruity of this move is highlighted by the fact that Israel, a member state in Western Asia, was not admitted to ECWA while a terrorist organization which is not a state has been admitted. We were very disturbed to see countries like Greece and Jamaica voting to sit the PLO as a state. This is the height of cynicism which must shock anybody to whom the future of the UN is important.

Talking of cynicism, Cuba, which is trying to ingratiate itself in U.S. public opinion, has been adopting an increasingly anti-Israel, anti-Jewish position in the UN, in recent months, including the fact that Cuba is the only non-Arab country to have recently publicly reaffirmed its support of the Zionism-is-racism resolution.

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