Israel and the UN: Progress Over the Past Five Years

Writing in the New York Sun Sybil Kellser Sanchez of B’nai B’rith takes a look back of Israel-UN relations over the last five years and sees what he considers great progress. For one, Israel finally joined the regional grouping called WEOG, which stands for “Western Europe and Others Group,” meaning that it now can compete with other democracies for seats in various UN committees, like the Security Council. (Prior, it was in the Asian Group, where countries without diplomatic ties to Israel would block it from running for certain committee positions.) Sanchez continues:

In 2004…the United Nations held its first international conference on anti-Semitism. The secretary-general at the time, Kofi Annan, echoed the already adopted declaration: “International developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism.” Another unprecedented accomplishment occurred when, for the first time in 60 years, the General Assembly recognized the horrors of the Holocaust and condemned Holocaust denial. And, the Security Council condemned President Ahmadinejad of Iran directly for Holocaust denial and for violent rhetoric threatening to destroy Israel.

Politically speaking, Security Council negotiations trump the General Assembly because they can provide diplomatic and legal solutions to military conflicts. In the case of the Lebanon war, the council brokered a ceasefire and set the terms for follow-up discussions to address tensions. Israel accomplished additional diplomatic feats in the council and other areas through precedent-setting acknowledgment of Israeli security concerns and regret over the loss of Israeli civilian life due to Palestinian terrorist attacks. The change in U.N. administration under the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also saw a decrease in polarizing rhetoric.

A former American UN Ambassador liked to say (and I paraphrase) “there are three categories of countries at the United Nations: Five permanent members of the Security Council, ten non-permanent members of the Security Council, and one permanent non-member of the Security Council: Israel.”

That formulation seems to no longer hold true, for another sign progress is that Israel have successfully submitted its name for candidature at the UN Security Council. Times are changing.