Israel, which has made it a point not to walk out of the United Nations despite all of the abuse hurled at it from member nations over the years, will be pointedly absent when the General Assembly convenes on Monday, Yom Kippur.
So will President Bill Clinton. Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold, said this is the first time an American president has not spoken at the start of the General Assembly’s general debate. He will speak Tuesday instead.
Gold said he sent a letter of protest to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan several months ago objecting to the scheduling of the session on Yom Kippur. And he said he also spoke to leading UN officials but was told "they could do nothing about it; it was too late."
The UN, which closes each year for two Muslim holidays, will convene with no one at Israel’s desk and with the new American ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, who is Jewish, also absent. A spokesman for the State Department said that it was unclear whether anyone would sit at the U.S. desk on Monday.
When Holbrooke does appear on Tuesday, he said through a spokesman that he would begin renewing U.S. efforts to get Israel admitted into a regional grouping from which it has been excluded during the organization’s 50-year history. Although geographically Israel belongs in the Asian group, Arab countries there have kept it out. In the interim, Israel and the U.S. have been pushing to have Israel admitted to the grouping known as the Western European and Others Group, which includes Europeans, Canada, and New Zealand, and the U.S. as an observer.
Holbrooke said that by barring Israel from a regional group, the UN prevents Israel from "fully participating and contributing to the United Nations." It cannot, for instance, sit on the Security Council.Gold pointed out that the day before he officially assumed his post at the UN, Holbrooke met with him for two hours. Over a breakfast of croissants and lox at Gold’s home, the two men discussed the upcoming General Assembly and how they could best work together. Gold said new ambassadors normally pay only 10- or 15-minute courtesy calls and that this meeting was designed to send a message about the close cooperation the two countries would maintain at the UN.
"What I see is a clear ratcheting up of U.S. activism in behalf of Israel over the issue of regional groups," said Gold. "A lot of thought is being given to creative new solutions that were not advanced before. Holbrooke is coming with tremendous diplomatic experience and he will seek a way of moving this issue forward."