An UN-fortunate Lesson

By Michael Freund

It would be easy to dismiss the recent barrage of six anti- Israel resolutions at the United Nations as just another example of the world body's enduring bias against the Jewish state. Employing characteristic one-sidedness, the UN General Assembly reaffirmed with near unanimity on December 1st that Israel is to blame for virtually all the ills of the Middle East.

Indeed, the UN resolutions have become little more than an annual ritual, where the assembly of nations invokes the lofty principles of human rights for the lowly aim of marginalizing Israel. That few people in Israel take such criticism seriously is borne out by the minimal coverage devoted in the Israeli press to the UN's antics. Hence, the tendency is to disparage UN votes as the cathartic rantings of bored diplomats anxious to get to the next dinner party.

But the UN resolutions bear an important, if unintended, lesson for Israeli policymakers, one they should not ignore or downplay: concessions to the Palestinians may succeed in eliciting worldwide support, but such support lasts only until new Palestinian demands are made. And whereas public opinion is fleeting in nature, conceding territory is not.

Bear in mind that the UN General Assembly is not an independent being endowed with free will that chooses to denounce Israel. In fact, it is a meeting ground for the nations of the world to express their views on various issues. When the General Assembly votes to condemn Israel, it is not really the UN that is criticizing us - it is the nations of the world.

And so, despite seven years of painful and unprecedented concessions to the Palestinians, and the loss of hundreds of Israeli lives to terrorism, Israel has little to show for it in terms of international public opinion. Israeli concessions have won occasional expressions of support from other nations, but they have not altered the international community's long- term, fundamental outlook. Thus, despite its willingness to divide its indivisible capital and relinquish its holiest of shrines to foreign control, Israel is still seen as a pariah, whose popularity at the UN rivals that of child slavery and international drug smuggling.

One need look no further than the events of recent weeks, as Israel has faced growing criticism around the world for defending itself against the violence of the intifada. The lynchings in Ramallah, the Kfar Darom school bus bombing and the nightly shooting in Netzarim, Hebron and Psagot have failed to evoke more than passing sympathy, if any, for Israel's plight. Perhaps out of fear of how the world might react, the Government has refrained thus far from employing the measures necessary to quell the violence.

Much of the international pressure on Israel is the result of the Palestinians' successful propaganda campaign, which has reinforced their image as the victim of Israeli "aggression". With Israeli Foreign Ministry officials busy arguing among themselves about whether and how to issue a document on Palestinian violations of the agreements, or even if it should carry the logo of the State of Israel on its cover, it is no wonder the Palestinians are having a field day on the propaganda front.

One of the Palestinians' aims is to compel Israel to make further concessions from a position of weakness, and that is where the UN resolutions come in to play. By serving as grist for the Palestinian propaganda mill, the resolutions will only harden Yasser Arafat's resolve to squeeze Israel further. After all, the entire world is behind him, right?

As a barometer of world public opinion, the UN resolutions also indicate some stormy weather fronts are on the horizon for Israel. One resolution notes enthusiastically "the lasting impact of the uprising (intifada) of the Palestinian people". In the diplomatic lexicon, that amounts to a call for the Palestinians to continue the violence and terror, something the world community apparently supports wholeheartedly.

Israel's UN Ambassador Yehuda Lancry and Deputy Ambassador Aaron Jacob both gave valiant and impressive speeches to the UN last week in defense of Israel. But changing the world body's attitude will require more than just eloquent oratory.

Israel will have to embark on an aggressive public-relations campaign that is pro-active rather than reactive. Instead of limiting itself to responding to Palestinian allegations, the Government must launch an information offensive whose aim is to expose the Palestinian Authority as the chief culprit behind the collapse of the peace process.

More importantly, the Israeli Government must finally grasp the fact that a nation can not formulate its policies based solely on the criteria of how world public opinion will react. The applause on the White House Lawn after the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords faded away long ago. But seven years later, the consequences of its implementation continue to ricochet night after night off the walls and barricades of Jewish homes in southern Jerusalem.

The writer, a founder of IRIS, served as Deputy Director for Communications & Policy Planning in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office and previously as Assistant to the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations.

Information Regarding Israel's Security (IRIS)
http://www.iris.org.il
email: info@iris.org.il
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