For every anti-Israel resolution passed – like this weekend’s decree by UNESCO that the Cave of the Patriarchs is of Palestinian heritage – feathers here get quite ruffled.
But according to a couple of visiting UN ambassadors, Israel’s outrage has been much ado about nothing.
“It is clearly not personal,” Estonian Ambassador Sven Jurgenson told The Jerusalem Post, explaining that every member state has a whole series of considerations which determines its voting patterns.
“It is a complex situation where there is an exchange of votes. There is a very small number of countries which are anti-Israel and most, perhaps all, are surrounding Israel, he said.”
Jurgenson was one of the nine UN ambassadors who arrived here last week courtesy of a Project Interchange delegation hosted by the American Jewish Committee and Israel’s UN Mission.
His remarks underscores the growing disconnect between Israel and the UN, where one party clearly doesn’t understand the other.
In fact, Jurgenson admits he was surprised by the uproar caused by UN resolution 2334 passed last year which condemns Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“It is a bit surprising how sensitive these resolutions are to Israel. I didn’t think it was such a big issue,” he said. “I personally do not see that this has as strong a meaning as Israel gives it and secondly, this is only a tiny part of the United Nations.”
Jurgenson spoke to the Post before visiting one of the 32 tunnels detected by the IDF last week. Most seemed shocked by their sophisticated infrastructure and were able to glean a better understanding of what Israel is up against.
It was one of many stops in which organizers hoped the ambassadors would cultivate a better understanding of Israel’s unique security challenges and that will ultimately translate into more favorable votes at the UN.
When it comes to Israel’s security, for Jurgenson, a trip like this can help alleviate some of the misconceptions. “I think for the countries that are here [on this delegation], there is no need to change hearts and minds, but among a vast majority of UN member states, there is a need to have more information, though,” he said.
For Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon, a trip like this helps illustrate his arguments at the UN because diplomats are able to see Israel’s challenges with their own eyes. “When I make the case of cement being used to make tunnels [at the UN], and someone like Ambassador Nikki Haley sees the tunnels, she was shocked to see their sophisticated infrastructure.”
But like most fractured relationships, there is usually blame on both sides.
Jurgenson readily admits that the UN needs reform, but that Israel should take a proactive role in being involved in resolutions that go beyond the conflict.
On the UN’s part, Jurgenson acknowledges some soul-searching among UN representatives is needed.
“There are empty resolutions that are repeated year after year. We give empty speeches to empty halls which is a waste of money. The biggest problem is that the Security Council is seen as not doing the job it’s supposed to do. Things just don’t work,” he acknowledged.
But according to Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya, this fractured relationship can be mended.
“The most obvious thing that needs to happen is that there needs to be peace. By peace, I mean a peace recognized by all parties,” he said.
He understands that cannot be achieved overnight, however, in the meantime, Israel can focus on engaging with the UN on initiatives that go beyond the conflict.
“Israel needs to be invested in resolutions and platforms outside of the conflict and show its value to the international community, things that are outside of the Israeli conflict,” Kamau argued.
“Your technology, your agriculture innovation, counter-terrorism, water irrigation, Israel doesn’t have to be a single-agenda country. It’s a huge successful country that has gone from an under-developed state to a very sophisticated one and those lessons need to be heard,” he explained.
“Israel has a lot to show off, unlike many countries that don’t. We end up going to some countries and basically all we do is eat and share experiences, which is good, but we have great food here too,” he added.
Africa in particular, has been of interest to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but for Kamau he wonders why it took Israel so long to reach this epiphany.
“I’m really glad the lights have gone on here and that there is an engagement,” he said. He recalls conversations years ago with Ron Prosor where he would ask, “Why are you not engaged? Where is Israel? You want us to vote for you in a myriad of resolutions that are very important to Israel but we see no presence of Israel in our countries.”
Considering that Kenya, too, shares security concerns when it comes to combating terror – just last Wednesday an al-Shabaab attack killed three police officers in his country – Kamau sees and appreciates everything Israel has to offer.
“As a Kenyan, we appreciate the work that you do and the challenges you face. When you hear resolutions... please understand they are not pushed by us and they do not diminish our appreciation for you,” he told the delegation on their last day.