Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminisced how, at the start of his tenure as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in 1984, he met the Lubavitcher rebbe who told him that “you are going to the house of darkness but you must remember that even in the greatest darkness, if you light a small candle, it will shed its light to great distances.”
The UN’s attitude toward Israel has not become friendlier since, but the plans of the new U.S. administration to rehabilitate its standing no longer enables Israel to simply ignore the international organization. What is certain is that it is very unlikely that when he appears at the General Assembly to give his speech, the Prime Minister will feel any nostalgia for his days at the UN.
At the opening ceremony of the UN General Assembly this week, the Libyan president-elect of the 64th session, Dr. Ali Treki, addressed the assembled nations. He spoke of international terrorism, the economic crisis and poverty, but the only country he chose to criticize of the 192 members of the General Assembly was Israel. Treki declared that the right of the Palestinians to return is a basic right if there is to be peace and security, in addition to the “removal of the illegal and illegitimate settlements.”
Later in the day, the Goldstone Commission’s report on the war in Gaza was published. Prime Minister Netanyahu will have to harness all his public relations skills, for which he was recognized as a rising star during the early days of his political career as an ambassador at the UN, in order to attempt to divert the discussion toward Iran’s nuclear program – and mostly on setting a clear timetable for the expected dialog with Fatah on October 1.
The Israeli delegation acknowledges that the atmosphere is harsh. The settlements would have been raised as an issue at every opportunity, and now, with the release of the damning report, the prime minister’s message for peace will fall on deaf ears. Government officials who held a series of meetings in the U.S. with members of the administration, Congress, the media and Jewish leaders, found themselves having to respond to the report.
Jewish congressmen were quick to issue a condemnation of the report, and non-Jewish members of Congress pointed out that they had no time to read a 500-page report in the midst of hearings on Afghanistan. However, if U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is unable to finalize an agreement for a tripartite meeting between President Barack Obama, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu at the General Assembly, it is doubtful whether the U.S. president will have any time for the prime minister and Israel on his busy schedule.
In addition to the discussions on climate change and a meeting with African leaders, Obama will chair a meeting of the Security Council in order to discuss ways of countering nuclear proliferation. The U.S. delegation expects that at the end of the meeting the council will issue a joint declaration, even though ahead of the discussions with Iran, scheduled to begin on October 1, the Americans have already made it clear that they do not intend to focus on any specific country during the Security Council discussions.