Behind the Headlines: Israel’s New U.N. Ambassador Poised to Challenge World Body

Dore Gold has no illusions about the challenges that lie ahead for him as Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations.

With the U.N. General Assembly scheduled to open its 52nd session on Sept. 16, the American-born diplomat is preparing for diplomatic responsibilities that he believes could be unprecedented if his country enters final-status talks with the Palestinians.

That process is slated to determine such weighty matters as Israel’s borders and the future of Jerusalem.

In an interview the day before the latest terrorist bombs ripped through downtown Jerusalem, Gold took the international community to task for giving carte blanche to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

“The reason why Yasser Arafat can embrace a leader of Hamas in public and give Hamas a green light to attack Israelis” is that “very few people know how to say no to Yasser Arafat,” Gold said.

And, he said, “from all indications, Arafat has not conceded the use of violence as an instrument for advancing the peace process.”

“The condemnation of the international community of the utilization of violence as a negotiating card should be universal,” he said.

At the same time, he said, “It may be very difficult to achieve.”

Days after the attack, Gold reiterated the “accountability of Arafat for the loss of Israeli lives.”

Despite the high stakes and the tall hurdles, the 43-year-old Connecticut native seems undaunted by the prospect of representing an increasingly isolated country.

Gold is assuming his post in the wake of a series of tough, albeit non-binding, resolutions by the General Assembly condemning Israel for Jewish construction at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem.

The stingingly harsh anti-Israel rhetoric in the assembly halls prior to these votes was reminiscent of the era prior to the 1993 signing of the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinians.

But Gold aims to put things in perspective, faithful to the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he served for the last year as foreign policy adviser.

He argues that it is important not to exaggerate the warming in the U.N.’s climate that preceded the Likud-led government.

While there was some “mild improvement,” said Gold, who wears a knitted kipah certain to distinguish him in the diplomatic ranks, “Israel’s difficulties at the U.N. never stopped.”

“There were massive majorities against the Israeli positions all through the 1990s,” particularly on resolutions dealing with Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Most notably, he said, Israel has continued to be denied membership in a regional grouping, to which every member state is entitled. Such a denial precludes Israel’s participation in a number of key U.N. bodies.

Meanwhile, Gold made it clear he would be proactive when it comes to advancing Israel’s position in the peace process.

While he termed it a “very impaired” process, he insisted that Israel wants to repair it and see it implemented.

One of the tools he is using to get across his message is the two-page “Note for the Record,” which was attached to the Hebron agreement signed in January and drawn up by Dennis Ross, the U.S. special envoy on the Middle East.

In the document, which Gold helped negotiate, Israelis and Palestinians affirmed their commitments to complete the implementation of the 1995 Interim Agreement. Israel emphasized the importance of security that “is constant and not contingent” and of the principle of reciprocity, he said, pointing to Arafat’s failures on both counts.

In contrast, he said, when Egypt or Jordan disagrees with Israel, neither encourages violence against the Jewish state.

Gold is circulating copies of the “Note for the Record” in his meetings with other diplomats. The handout features commentary in purple ink highlighting Israel’s compliance, item by item, followed by commentary in red recording the Palestinians’ non-compliance.

The red type indicts Arafat for failing to strengthen security cooperation, prevent incitement, combat terrorist organizations and infrastructures, punish terrorists and confiscate illegal weapons, among other items.

“You have to examine the facts of who lived up to their commitments and who didn’t. It’s clear as day,” he said.

Without compliance, Gold said, “we have a fundamental problem of how to move this process forward.”

On the issue of Har Homa, Gold said that despite the international outcry, Israel broke no rules by beginning construction on the new Jewish neighborhood.

The Palestinians had failed in their bid to place in the Oslo accords restrictions on Israel’s right to build, he said, noting that Arafat signed the agreement anyway.

“To come now and say you should not build in Jerusalem or that Israel should freeze settlement activity is to demand from the Netanyahu government what Arafat failed to obtain from Rabin and Peres.”

He also said that the Palestinians had canceled a meeting between Arafat and an adviser to Netanyahu who had been dispatched to apprise him of the decision to proceed at Har Homa.

“They cut the lines of communication, not Netanyahu,” he said.

At the same time, Gold said such a crisis is natural and must be weathered.

“Negotiations are not easy, there are crises and impasses and you have to have the strength to go through them.”

Gold, meanwhile, defended the United States and the Clinton administration as being a faithful ally, in spite of accusations from some quarters that it is being too tough on Israel by pressuring it for concessions.

“The onus for the current impasse and the escalation of violence is not on President Clinton or Benjamin Netanyahu, it’s on one person, Yasser Arafat.”

Gold said that part of the responsibility he shares with the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Eliahu Ben-Elissar, and the new consul general in New York, Shmuel Sisso, will be to “help adjust the expectations of the international community and the Jewish community” around the peace process.

Those expectations, he said, had “been elevated” under the previous Labor government.

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