Israel could be just “days away” from being accepted into a regional grouping at the United Nations, a long-sought goal that would open the door for it to sit on the UN Security Council and a variety of other bodies worldwide, according to Israel’s UN ambassador, Dore Gold.
He said the 15 nations that are members of the regional group known as Western Europe and Others may announce even before next week’s European Union committee meetings that they are prepared to admit Israel. The EU committees, one dealing with the UN and the other the Middle East, were expected to discuss Israel’s admission.
If Israel is admitted, a five-decade goal, it would be a fitting end to Gold’s efforts to normalize Israel’s relations at the UN. His two-and-a-half-year stint at the world body came to an end this week. His successor, Yehuda Lancri, will take up the post in about a month.
In a wide-ranging interview this week, the American-born Gold discussed his tenure at the UN, where Israel has often been viewed as a pariah, as well as relations between American Jews and Israel, and his views on diplomacy.
But the impending acceptance of Israel into a regional grouping was foremost on his mind, a tangible sign of Israel’s improving status at the UN. While diplomatic sources said that Ireland, Italy and perhaps a third European nation were refusing last week to support Israel’s admission, Gold said “the last countries that were doubtful seemed to be shifting in Israel’s favor.”
Rep. Peter King (R-L.I.) said officials in Ireland insisted to him that the government was not against Israel’s admission. “They are not openly supporting it,” he said, “but they think a common decision should be arrived at. Ireland would not oppose any common position.”
Israel has been denied a seat in a regional grouping since it joined the world body 50 years ago. Although it should have been a part of the Asian regional group, Arab nations there have blocked its admission.
The United States has supported Israel’s admission into the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG), in which it sits with European nations and others, including Australia. But several European countries led by France were against it, fearing increased competition for one of the Security Council’s 10 rotating seats and possible retribution from Arab nations.
Gold said that “direct appeals” from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister David Levy and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, appear to have been responsible for the change.
Those familiar with Gold said his own efforts in fostering the change in attitude at the UN should not be underestimated.
“I think he is truly a success story,” said Evelyn Sommer, the UN representative of the World Jewish Congress and the Women’s International Zionist Organization. “Being an academic in the field of international law, he knew what he was talking about from a legal point of view and he was a master lobbyist, respected by friends and foe alike. He was one of those ambassadors who could write his own speeches without making mistakes. And he is a modest man who did it all without histrionics.”
Harris Schoenberg, director of UN affairs for B’nai B’rith International, said Gold’s work “demonstrated a masterful understanding of the UN as the foremost legitimizing authority in international affairs.”
Gold credited UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for taking a more positive approach toward Israel and for urging its admission into WEOG.
He said a “real turning point in Israel’s relations with the UN” came on May 11 when 115 nations joined Annan at a dinner at which Israel commemorated 50 years of UN membership.
Gold, who was appointed to his post by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he made improved relations with Annan an early and high priority. “We began to see him as someone we can work with rather than dismiss him as someone who is hostile to Israel.”
He added: “Israel’s gradual normalization in the UN was based on principle and not having to make specific concessions. When Israel stands strongly for the principles it believes in, it is appreciated; it is not something that other countries cringe over. …Clarifying your positions gives the other side a chance to moderate its positions.”
Asked to assess the role of an ambassador, Gold said that although heads of state can speak to each other directly on the phone, ambassadors are needed to gauge the pulse of a situation.
“In Jerusalem, you get a myopic view of the world,” he explained. “The ambassador is the primary sensor of where he is sitting. … There are two views of diplomacy. Some say it is to reach new agreements. My view is that it is to protect national interests. If agreements also protect national interests, then diplomacy has succeeded.”
Gold, who was born in Connecticut and gave up his American citizenship to serve as Israel’s ambassador, said American Jewish support for Israel is important as it enters into final peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
“It is imperative that the American Jewish community not get tired of the subject of Israel and turn inward the way much of America has turned away from other foreign policy issues,” he said. “You sometimes get the sense that there are different preoccupations in 1999 than there were after the ’67 war.
“Every generation of Jews worldwide has a special responsibility toward Israel. Our parents got involved in the establishment of the state and in protecting it. Today, we need American Jewry no less to be part of the re-creation of Jewish statehood — whether through aliyah, activism in Jewish institutions or to be politically active in Israel’s behalf. We are always at a critical time, but when negotiations begin over Jerusalem, the solidarity of American Jewry with Israel is more vital than ever.”