Is­rael ‘gain­ing ground at UN’

The Jewish state’s en­voy be­lieves he has found un­ex­pected al­lies against Iran, Hizbol­lah and ex­trem­ism


THE UNITED Na­tions has never been viewed as Is­rael’s clos­est ally. But Is­raeli am­bas­sador Dan Giller­man be­lieves he has de­tected a fun­da­men­tal change of at­ti­tude in many mem­ber na­tions pre­vi­ously among those most hos­tile to the Jewish state.

“A large por­tion of the so-called mod­er­ate Arab and Mus­lim world re­alises the real threat is not Is­rael but Iran” and Shia ex­trem­ism, he says. “That aware­ness of­fers a real op­por­tu­nity to reach a set­tle­ment with the Arab world and the Pales­tini­ans on much more prag­matic terms.”

The 62-year-old, in Lon­don this week for a JNF UK din­ner, claims this phe­nom­e­non fol­lows Is­rael’s sum­mer war with Hizbol­lah and Iran’s con­tin­u­ing nu­clear am­bi­tions.

He de­scribes a “mod­er­ate Arab” quar­tet aligned against ex­trem­ism and com­posed of Egypt, Jor­dan, the Emi­rates and — per­haps sur­pris­ingly — Saudi Ara­bia. How­ever, he stresses that Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans can only solve their con­flict bi­lat­er­ally.

“We don’t need an in­ter­na­tional ini­tia­tive. What we do need is the Arab world to give le­git­i­macy, we need the UN and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to back it and fi­nance it.”

That as­sess­ment hardly bodes well for the road map, in­sti­tuted by the rather dif­fer­ent quar­tet of the US, the EU, Rus­sia and the UN it­self, al­though Mr Giller­man is quick to in­sist: “It’s still the only plan on the ta­ble.”

Such tact­ful ma­noeu­vring has helped make the fa­ther-of-two, whose term has been ex­tended to an un­prece­dented five years, one of Is­rael’s most ad­mired en­voys. Mr Giller­man freely ad­mits he has what is con­sid­ered to be the hard­est job in Is­raeli diplo­macy, al­though he adds gra­ciously: “A far tougher one is rep­re­sent­ing the UN vis-à-vis Is­rael. It doesn’t en­joy the great­est rep­u­ta­tion as the fairest in­sti­tu­tion.”

For an ex-busi­ness­man who took up his cur­rent po­si­tion in 2003, Mr Giller­man has cer­tainly proved adept at such tact­ful fi­nesse, and no slouch at thun­der­ing sound­bites ei­ther, such as his de­scrip­tion of Iran as “a mad regime led by a pres­i­dent who de­nies the Holo­caust while pre­par­ing the next one”.

Sit­ting be­tween Italy and Ire­land — “Iran should have been next to Is­rael, but they de­cided to call them­selves the Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran”— he has over­seen break­throughs in­clud­ing UN ini­tia­tives to com­bat an­tisemitism and in­sti­tute a Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Day. In 2005 he was elected vice-chair of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly, the first Is­raeli to hold that po­si­tion since Abba Eban more than 50 years pre­vi­ously.

Yet in the po­lit­i­cal arena, the UN still proves awk­ward. Is­rael and the con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans uses up an ex­or­bi­tant amount of UN time and re­sources, and the body it­self has long been crit­i­cised for be­ing un­wieldy and in­ef­fec­tive.

Mr Giller­man’s anal­y­sis is sur­pris­ingly up­beat. He views Res­o­lu­tion 1701, which ended this sum­mer’s Le­banon war, as a mixed suc­cess, with Le­banese and in­ter­na­tional forces sta­bil­is­ing South Le­banon de­spite a con­tin­u­ing flow of weapons over the Syr­ian border. Pres­sure on Iran is con­tin­u­ing, and Mr Giller­man has high hopes for new UN sec­re­tary gen­eral Ban Ki Moon, who as a South Korean un­der­stands all too well the threat of a rogue regime with nu­clear weapons.

And anti-Is­rael rhetoric is only part of the UN story. “There’s an in­cred­i­ble dis­crep­ancy be­tween the very warm re­la­tions forged be­tween col­leagues and how they ex­press them­selves and vote,” he says. “I’ve de­vel­oped very close, warm and in­ti­mate re­la­tions with coun­tries that have no diplo­matic re­la­tions with Is­rael and even hos­tile ones. For their sakes, I won’t name names. But it’s done with the full knowl­edge of the lead­er­ship. Some of th­ese con­tacts lead to re­mark­able re­sults. I be­lieve very much in per­sonal diplo­macy, it can bring many div­i­dends not counted in the num­ber of hands raised for a vote.”

There is still a long way to go. “My ul­ti­mate quest is to nar­row the in­cred­i­ble gap be­tween the real world and the glass build­ing on First Av­enue,” he says. “To see Res­o­lu­tion 1701 im­ple­mented, to see Iran stopped in its tracks on its quest for nu­clear weapons and to turn the UN into a more hos­pitable and nor­mal place for Is­raelis to be.”

Am­bas­sador Dan Giller­man: “Per­sonal diplo­macy can bring many div­i­dends”

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