Op-ed: Israel and the United Nations; a Changing Relationship

Ten years ago, when the United Nations celebrated its 40th anniversary, there was little reason to believe that the United Nations would ever live up to its early promise. Instead of making the world safe from the scourge of war, the United Nations was rendered powerless in the face of the tensions of the Cold War-era. In place of a forum to promote international cooperation, the United Nations became deteriorated into yet another arena of superpower competition.

Over the past decade, a dramatic upheaval has occurred on the international political scene. The changes brought about by the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Soviet Union have translated into a new, more positive atmosphere at the United Nations. Today, as the 50th Session of the U.N. General Assembly commences, the United Nations is facing the dawn of a new era – an era where the visions of the past may be translated into reality.

The end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union have brought about a substantial rise in the number of ethnic, religious and regional conflicts throughout the world. The “new world order” that has promised rapidly deteriorated into a “new world disorder.” As a result, the United Nations has once again become an important forum for conflict resolution.

Since the late 1980s, the United Nations has successfully brought about ends to wars in Cambodia, Mozambique, Angola, El Salvador. Just this month, the United Nations began negotiations to end the war in Bosnia. The Gulf War was conducted under U.N. auspices, and the United Nations continues to maintain an active role in dismantling Iraq’s non-conventional weapons arsenal. There are currently 30 separate United Nations peacekeeping forces active in various trouble spots around the globe. The Security Council, once paralyzed by stalemate, has again become a focus of activity that now meets on a nearly daily basis.

One of the main beneficiaries of the renewed spirit of international cooperation sweeping the globe is the State of Israel. As we approach the 21st century, Israel finds itself in the mainstream of international affairs. This international standing is currently being solidified in the United Nations. No longer an international pariah, Israel is beginning to enjoy the benefits that membership in the United Nations merit.

The United Nations is not merely an expression of the positions of the majority of its 185 member States, but something more akin to an international parliamentary democracy. The General Assembly acts as the United Nation’s parliament, the Security Council, its Cabinet, and the agencies the bureaucracies implementing the resolutions of the two bodies.

Since the beginning of my service as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, I have dedicated myself to improving Israel’s image in the United Nations. Israel is working toward achieving a new relationship with the United Nations, its member states, its institutions, bodies and agencies – a relationship based on cooperation and mutual acceptance. Most of our efforts have been successful; the progress that Israel has made in a few short years is remarkable.

Israel’s relationship with the United Nations has gone through three distinct phases:

The Nurturing Phase. This first phase began on Nov. 29, 1947 when the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of the partition of Palestine. It continued throughout the decade, culminating with the United Nation’s recognition of Israel and its inclusion of Israel as a member state in May 1949.

The Antagonistic Phase. Beginning in the late 1950s, but especially after the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel’s position at the United Nations began to sour. The crystallization of the Cold War blocs, the rise of the non-aligned movement and the Palestinization of the Arab-Israeli conflict led to a proliferation of hostile resolutions with regard to Israel. This phase sunk to its nadir in 1975, when the General Assembly passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism.

The Normalization Phase: After the Madrid Conference of October 1991, and more significantly since Israel’s signing of the Declaration Of Principles with the Palestine Liberation Organization, a positive change has occurred effecting Israel’s standing at the United Nations.

Since the Labor Party came to power in 1992, Israel has established or renewed diplomatic relations with 33 countries, 13 of which were signed at the United Nations. Presently, we have relations with 155 out of the 185 U.N. member states. We even have working relations with 12 of the 30 countries with which we do not have diplomatic relations, including Morocco, Tunisia, Djibouti, Qatar, Bosnia and Croatia.

During the past two sessions of the General Assembly, the anachronistic or hostile resolutions regarding Israel have been eliminated, changed or toned down. The General Assembly adopted a “positive resolution” in support of the peace process and its resulting agreements as well as resolution calling for international cooperation against terrorism. Significantly, last year, for the first time, the United Nations did not single out Israel for possession of nuclear weapons.

Our connection to the Security Council has strengthened as well. For the past several years, Israel has not been condemned once by the Security Council, even following several problematic incidents, including the expulsion of the Hamas to Lebanon, Israeli land appropriations and the Hebron massacre. Moreover, the Security Council has, on numerous occasions, condemned acts of terror against Israelis.

The current government of Israel understands the need for new approaches to meet the changing realities in this age of global interdependence. We are committed to assuming a more active role in the processes and general activities of the United Nations. This includes sending non-military personnel to peacekeeping operations – as we did to Rwanda – participation in humanitarian activities and sending aid to the developing world.

Over the past several years, we have enjoyed increased cooperation with UNRWA, UNDP, UNICEF and other agencies involved with providing aid for the Palestinians. Last year, the United Nations allocated $280 million to the territories alone.

Buoyed by its recent successes, the United Nations must take pains to ensure that the raised expectations do not turn into increased disappointment and disillusioned. The United Nations has recently suffered several notable failures, including the ill-fated peacekeeping operation in Somalia and the continuing difficulties bringing about an end to hostilities in the former Yugoslavia.

One of the major factors for the United Nation’s resurgence is the active role taken by the sole remaining superpower – the United States. Though we are currently living in an age of unipolarity, the hegemonic position of the United States may be jeopardized by the growing political and economic strength of the European Union on one hand, and China on the other.

Concurrently, isolationist sentiment is once again gaining popularity in the United States. Without the support of the United States, the United Nations will suffer the same fate as its predecessor, the League of Nations. We are all too aware of the results of the League’s failure. The world cannot afford to see the United Nations fail as well.

This fall, over 130 world leaders and 100 foreign ministers, including Israel’s will participate in the 50th General Assembly. These leaders must reaffirm their commitment to the United Nations. For we Israelis, this anniversary is a unique opportunity to examine the significance of our reacceptance into the international community of nations.

At the same time, we must think hard about how not only to improve our standing at the United Nations, but how to improve the United Nations as a whole.

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