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The United Nations and Israel

Kofi Annan's Decisive Trial

By Isaac Herzog - October 21, 2001

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded this week to the United Nations and to its secretary-general, Kofi Annan, has accentuated the complex and painful relationship between the UN and Israel.

Although the organization has assumed a leading role in world politics in the attempt to achieve a basic world order, Israel has frequently suffered great disappointments from it. It is enough to recall the iniquitous resolution equating Zionism with racism, the series of anti-Israeli resolutions passed automatically every year, and the recent incompetent, infuriating handling by the UN of the matter of our three soldiers who were kidnapped on the Lebanese border, as well as the decision to include Syria in the Security Council.

Indeed, since November 29, 1947, the UN has afforded us far more moments of depression and disappointment than of satisfaction. However, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was right when he referred to Annan as an honest person, greatly admired for the way in which he directs this complex and cumbersome organization and for the honesty of his efforts to achieve peace in our region.

And now, this very week, Annan and his colleagues will be faced by a real challenge that will clarify whether the organization will return to its former state of hypocrisy and double standards or whether it will maintain the apparently determined attitude it assumed in a series of resolutions passed against terrorism since the tragedy on September 11.

This week, the judicial committee of the UN will discuss the wording and practical implementation of a series of resolutions obligating the UN to combat terrorism. The hot potato on the committee's agenda is the definition of "terrorism."

In contrast to our understanding of terrorism that we have experienced daily for many years, in shops, restaurants, discotheques, roads, and everywhere imaginable, some of the Arab countries have now taken the initiative of judicially and practically differentiating between Palestinian terrorism and that of Osama bin Laden, with the justification that this is not terrorism but a fight for freedom.

"Resistance to occupation," it was called by the Syrian ambassador to the UN, the new member of the Security Council, thus justifying the action of the suicide bombers in the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem and in the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv. This is, without doubt, a foolish and infuriating form of discrimination.

In such circumstances one should see the public commitment of the new Nobel prizewinner, Annan, who defined the term "terrorism" in the UN General Assembly as "deliberately taking the lives of innocent people, unrelated to a reason or motive." In his opinion every act of this kind is terrorism. This, therefore, is Annan's great trial - will he succeed in applying his definition to all the UN resolutions against terror?

If he succeeds, this will lead to greater clarity and determination of the resolutions against terrorism and to a uniform international standard that will also apply to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and the PA.

It would be right to demand from Annan and his colleagues an even higher and more reasonable standard that would specify that a country belonging to the UN that calls for the destruction and disappearance of another country belonging to the organization would automatically be considered to be aiding terrorism, with all the consequent ramifications. In this way an honorable and significant front would be established against Iran, which openly and publicly calls for the destruction of Israel.

If Annan fails, however, the definition dissolves and the UN begins evasion and compromise when defining different kinds of standards for innocent people, the Nobel Prize will have failed to live up to its promise. David Ben-Gurion's immortal phrase, "Um [UN] shmum," will then appear more justified than ever. This is the new challenge facing Israeli diplomacy.

(The writer, a lawyer, served as cabinet secretary in Ehud Barak's government.)

©2001 - Jerusalem Post

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