Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Israel...An Abnormal State

Who complained to the United Nations Security Council about the firing of Qassam rockets by the Hamas government in Gaza? The government of Israel.

And when the Security Council met to discuss the threat from Gaza, who refused to send its foreign minister to UN Headquarters so as "not to legitimize the Security Council's discussion of the operation against Hamas"? And who left the most important international arena to its UN ambassador, while the Palestinians and Arab countries flooded the building with high-level delegations? The government of Israel.

Who demanded in every diplomatic encounter that the Security Council impose sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program and punish Syria for smuggling weapons to Hezbollah, and then accused Iran and Syria of ignoring U.N. resolutions?

And when, over Israel's objections, that very council passed Resolution 1860 calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, who proclaimed that it would not accept it and intended to continue fighting? The government of Israel, of course.

It would be funny if it were not a matter of national importance: Israel complains to the UN about the Hamas government, and the next day claims that Hamas is not worthy of recognition and that the Security Council should not be discussing the conflict. Someone in Jerusalem is confused. Or not: Israel wants the international community, represented by the Security Council, to protect it from Hamas, Syria and Iran, but not to hamper the Israel Defense Forces operating with all its strength in Gaza. The problem is that the international community rejects this arrangement and wants to intervene even when it hampers Israel.

As usual with us, political rivalries affect foreign-policy discourse. Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak pass responsibility to Tzipi Livni and the Foreign Ministry for the diplomatic downfall in the UN. Livni defends herself with the argument that she warned them of the expected resolution, and that the prime minister was the one who forbade her from taking part in the deliberations. Olmert hoped that his personal friendship with George W. Bush and Nicolas Sarkozy would allow him to torpedo a Security Council resolution, but his friends disappointed him and preferred to back up their foreign ministers. Sarkozy did not postpone the discussion and Bush did not veto the resolution.

Israel's problematic conduct in the UN is doubtless affected by disagreements among its leaders, but it reflects a deeper problem. Israel has not yet decided whether to be a normal member of the international community and pay the price of normalcy, or to remain isolated on the outside. This dilemma began almost with the establishment of the state, and has persisted since. The natural tendency of Israeli diplomats is to see the UN and its institutions as insignificant, as a famous statement by David Ben-Gurion once intimated. It was a kind of hostile organization, controlled by a majority opposed to Israel, which is saved only by an American veto in the Security Council.

In recent years, Israel has tried to soften its attitude and normalize its relationships with the international organization. The Foreign Ministry is proud of the involvement of Israelis in UN institutions and the resolutions Israel has initiated in the General Assembly. The Security Council has been perceived as an asset in dealing with Iran and Hezbollah, and even in negotiations with the Palestinians. Only four weeks ago, Livni praised Resolution 1850, which supported the Annapolis process, and called for a continuation of talks on a final agreement. In the days before the war in Gaza, the Security Council resolution was seen as a tool to strengthen Kadima as the party of negotiations and peace against the rejectionism of Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud.

But then came the crisis, and Israel returned to her old rejectionist stance. Once again it had to beg America to save it, and came out humiliated. In retrospect, Jerusalem tried to soften the embarrassment, and claimed that the resolution was not so bad. If that's the case, why did Israel demean itself in a failed attempt to prevent it? Would it not have been preferable to send the foreign minister to New York to demonstrate involvement and concern, and also to talk about the resolution in a positive way after it was passed?

In eight days, a new president will move into the White House, one obligated to strengthening the influence of international institutions. Barack Obama will not be in a hurry to cast a veto for Israel's sake. Israel should become involved in this process and not be seen as the disturbed child of the international community.

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