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Israel Goes on the Offensive at the United Nations, for First Time

November 5, 2003
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After dodging bullets at the United Nations for half a century, Israel has decided to switch tactics.

For the first time, the Jewish state introduced its own resolution in a General Assembly committee, voicing concern for Israeli children living under the threat of Palestinian terrorism.

“Until now we were only playing defense. Now we are playing offense,” said Ambassador Arye Mekel, Israel’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.

Introduced Monday, Israel’s resolution comes in the wake of an Egyptian-sponsored resolution expressing concern for Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation.

It also comes as Israel fights off several Arab and European attempts at the United Nations to force Israel to make concessions.

Two major efforts under way have materialized the fears that Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Dan Gillerman, expressed in a conference call to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations about a month ago.

One was a Syrian-sponsored resolution at the Security Council — whose resolutions are binding — to force Israel to stop building its West Bank security fence.

That resolution was vetoed by the United States. It later passed in the General Assembly — whose resolutions are not binding — by a 144-4 vote.

The second was a Russian resolution circulated last week pressing for implementation of the “road map” peace plan. Pro-Israel activists say that would usurp American influence and empower the United Nations, which is seen as biased toward the Palestinians.

In what has become an annual ritual, the General Assembly passes nearly 20 anti-Israel resolutions, almost by rote. Israel chose to respond to the recent Egyptian resolution because it represented a relatively new addition to the batch.

Israeli officials who tried to lobby diplomats against the other resolutions were told to give up, since the resolutions were so ingrained in the system as to be almost automatic, Mekel explained.

Israel’s recent resolution adopts similar language to the Egyptian one, even invoking the same U.N. conventions.

For example, the Egyptian resolution expresses concern over the “continuous grave deterioration of the situation of Palestinian children in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and about the severe consequences of the continuing Israeli assaults and sieges on Palestinian cities, towns, villages and refugee camps, resulting in the dire humanitarian crisis.”

Israel’s version expresses concern for the “continuous grave threat to Israeli children from Palestinian terrorism, and about the severe consequences of continuing terrorist attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade directed against Israeli civilians, including children.”

“We are presenting them, we believe, with a moral dilemma,” Mekel said. “We are putting them to the test.”

The United Nations is likely to fail that test, said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents.

“For dead Jews they have sympathy,” he said, but when it comes to protecting living Israelis from harm, “a lot of them will not likely support” the bill. It will “expose the hypocrisy of the United Nations,” Hoenlein added.

But Mekel wants to give the assembly a chance.

Israelis long have reacted to the United Nations with disdain, with some considering it an empty and silly institution that is antagonistic toward the Jewish state.

But, Mekel said, “we believe the time has come” to “take an active stance, and that is what we are doing.”

In coming weeks, Israel will dispatch letters to U.N. members asking for their support on the resolution, and the Jewish state will reach out to American Jewish groups as well.

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