From Object to Participant: Israel Plays a Very Different Role at U.N.
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From Object to Participant: Israel Plays a Very Different Role at U.N.

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As the 49th annual United Nations General Assembly opens this week, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Gad Ya’acobi, hopes to build on the diplomatic gains of a “breakthrough” year.

“We are very satisfied with what happened this past year concerning the Israeli-United Nations relationship,” Ya’acobi said in an interview. “We are gradually becoming a participant and a legitimate member state, rather than a client and an object.”

Ya’acobi attributes his country’s new stature to recent progress in the Middle East peace process and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had long targeted Israel in the international body.

As evidence of its growing acceptance, Israel, in the past year alone, established diplomatic ties with 21 additional nations. Israel now has relations with 146 out of the 185 member states in the U.N., the highest number since the state was established in 1948.

When Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres arrives in New York on Sept. 26 for the General Assembly, he will engage in a marathon of meetings with 30 or more presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers, according to officials at the Israeli Mission to the U.N.

During his week-long stay, Peres also is expected to meet with representatives of Muslim countries with which Israel does not have relations, said Ya’acobi, declining to reveal which ones.

Israel’s new status at the U.N. is reflected in part by the elimination, deferral or amendment of 23 of the 30 long-standing anti-Israel resolutions that, until this year, were renewed annually — and with little fuss — by the world body’s non-binding General Assembly.


The change was also reflected in Israel’s participation in such U.N.-sponsored projects as the monitoring of South Africa’s first all-race elections earlier this year and the aiding of Rwandan refugees in Zaire.

In addition, three Israelis were elected, for the first time in decades, to U.N. posts.

Now Ya’acobi is hoping to move forward.

First on the agenda, he said, will be securing passage of a resolution endorsing the peace agreements of this past year — the Cairo Accord on implementing Palestinian autonomy and the Washington Declaration ending the state of war between Jordan and Israel.

The resolution, a draft of which already exists, also would call for regional cooperation in the Middle East and a comprehensive peace based on mutual recognition of all the countries in the region.

This resolution would follow up on a resolution passed last year, which praised the Declaration of Principles signed in September 1993 in Washington by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Ya’acobi said he expects the resolution to be pushed by the United States, Russia, Norway, Egypt and the PLO, and to receive the support of all but three or four member states.

These states — likely to include Libya, Iraq and Iran — now find themselves in a minority vis a vis their stances toward Israel.

Ya’acobi said he also plans to devote attention to the remaining seven anti-Israel resolutions that passed the U.N. body last year and are expected to return to the floor this year.

Israel, according to Ya’acobi, will argue that some of these resolutions prejudge the outcome of the ongoing Israel-Arab peace process.

These include resolutions that address the status of Jerusalem and demand Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and Lebanon.

“Those issues have to be solved in direct negotiations,” said Ya’acobi.

On these resolutions, Israel will be fighting the PLO and Arab states who say the U.N. should make its voice heard on these topics, even if they are eventually to be resolved in negotiations.


One U.N. battle Israeli diplomats do not expect to win involves a group of resolutions authorizing and endorsing the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which has traditionally been a source of virulently anti-Israel propaganda.

Explaining their pessimism, the Israelis note that the United Nations did not eliminate its committee on apartheid until after the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black president. The Israelis say they expect the Palestinians to insist on maintaining the pro-Palestinian bodies until a final settlement is reached.

But, according to Ya’acobi, Israel will counter that the money spent funding this committee, and a similar body affiliated with the U.N. Secretariat, would be better used in directly aiding the Palestinians.

Ya’acobi praised the work being done by the U.N. agencies in the territories as “vital.”

The key agencies involved in the region are the United Nations Development Program and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees. UNDP has this year doubled its budget in the territories to $30 million. And UNWRA has begun building permanent housing in the Gaza Strip for the first time.

Beyond their direct expenditures, Ya’acobi said that the two agencies are playing a crucial role as a conduit for international aid. With the PLO still unable or unwilling to provide the degree of accountability that foreign donor nations insist on, the problem is being “solved partially, as an interim arrangement, through the UNDP and UNRWA,” said Ya’acobi.

“The donors’ money will be passed through those two agencies, in full coordination with the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

Another key diplomatic issue on this year’s General Assembly agenda is the fate of a resolu- tion condemning Israeli nuclear weaponry, according to Ya’acobi.

Last year, Israel came close to defeating the resolution; this year, Ya’acobi believes, it will succeed.

In its place, however, is likely to be a resolution calling for a Middle Eastern nuclear-free zone. Israel, the only Middle Eastern country generally believed to have current nuclear capability, insists that such a nuclear-free zone must follow, not precede, a state of comprehensive regional peace.

“It is not logical — and it contradicts our basic interests — to think that Israel will be inspected on this matter while Iran, Iraq and perhaps Libya are (developing) nuclear potential,” Ya’acobi said, adding, “They are the declared enemies of Israel.”

Referring to any potential proposal on the matter, Ya’acobi said, “We don’t know yet if the proposal of some of the moderate Arab countries is acceptable to us.”

Another matter which may have to await the arrival of a comprehensive regional peace is Israel’s inclusion in a U.N. regional group.

The ability to serve on the Security Council and other key committees is dependent on being a member of a regional group. But admission to a regional group requires a total consensus of the group’s members.

Israel belongs in the Asian group, but even after peace accords with its immediate neighbors, Israel cannot assume that Iran or Libya would allow it to join.

Until recently, in view of its isolation at the United Nations, Israel made little effort to join a regional group. But as Israel emerged from its pariah status at the world body two years ago, it turned its attention to seeking observer status in the Western European and Others regional group, which includes such Western but non-European nations as the United States and Australia.

This effort has floundered, however, because bringing Israel on board the European group would dilute the strength of the current members. While the United States has supported Israel’s move, other states have blocked the bid.

While Ya’acobi said he does not expect to join the grouping this year, he said the effort has produced other positive results, such as the election of Israeli individuals to U.N. committees.

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