Nikki Haley is quickly becoming the new darling of pro-Israel Americans after winning the hearts of many attendees earlier this week at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference. The crowd erupted as she declared emphatically, “The days of Israel-bashing at the United Nations are over.” Unfortunately, they are not over and no matter what Nikki Haley does as UN ambassador, her actions will not make up for irresponsible policy-making on behalf of the Israeli government. Only Israel has the power to end Israel bashing at the UN.
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Haley spent time noting her accomplishments thus far in the position, some commendable like causing the UN to pull a report labeling Israel an apartheid state, while others embarrassing, likeblocking the appointment of Salam Fayyad as UN Libya envoy, a decision that former American ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro accurately described as‘stunningly dumb’. She also expressed dismay at the Obama administration's failure to stand up for Israel at the UN, declaring that resolutions such UNSC 2334 “would never happen again." Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu commended Haley’s speech in a Facebook postsaying: “I thank President Trump and Ambassador Haley for changing the rules of the game at the United Nations!”
Haley is right that for years the UN General Assembly and other UN bodies have unfairly and disproportionately criticized Israel, and continue to do so. The amount of UNSC resolutions condemning Israel compared to other countries is absurd, and Israel is likely to be targeted at the UN in perpetuity no matter what it does. But the power to mitigate the damage and begin to change the rules of the game at the United Nations on Israel is not in Nikki Haley’s hands; it is in Israel’s hands.
Earlier this week, Israel’s Mission to the UN hosted its 2nd annual Ambassadors Against BDS conference.There were inspiring speakers who outlined the UN’s history of outrageous decisions on Israel, focused on how Israel is the only democracy in the region and unjustly receives more condemnation than all other countries combined, and highlighted that the UN remains focused on Israel to an absurd degree as the Syrian civil war rages on. All these facts are true but none will effectively combat UN Israel-bashing or BDS.
Effectively isolating BDS and Israel's detractors must be done by making them appear on the fringe and out of touch with the mainstream, but recent Israeli government decisions have done the opposite, like Israel’s travel banthat bans foreigners who publicly support boycotting Israel and/or settlements. It blurs the line between those who support BDS, many of whom are virulent and unrepentant anti-Semites dressed in anti-Zionist clothing, and those who oppose or boycott settlements, a large group that supports Israel’s right to exist but is distressed at Israeli policy in the West Bank. Such legislation is dangerous and gives those who truly seek to destroy the Jewish state real momentum.
There is a broad consensus in the international community. Virtually every country except Iran either accepts or is willing to accept Israel’s right to exist in a country based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed upon swaps, and Jewish Jerusalem as its capital. This includes almost all Arab states.
That is not to say Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank or unilaterally halt settlement construction, but Israel has nothing to lose in taking steps to preserve a two-state solution, without having to withdraw one soldier or settler.
For example, adopting elements of theCommanders for Israel’s Security plan like freezing settlement construction outside of the blocs, the area where only 20% of settlers reside, would clearly convey to the international community that Israel is committed to a two-state solution, even if it is not around the corner. This would further be enhanced by completing the security fence, and issuing a policy declaration that the area east of it is meant to be part of a future Palestinian state.
Another initiative sorely needed is a comprehensive humanitarian plan for Gaza to prevent the next round of fighting, improve the lives of its residents,and weaken Hamas. An Israeli initiative calling for the construction of a port and massive economic relief and rehabilitation in return for disarmament of Hamas would receive widespread international support.
Make no mistake, the BDS movement is dangerous and rooted in inherently anti-Semitic beliefs, and its supporters seek to delegitimize any sort of Jewish self-determination and refuse to accept Israel, but there is a danger in putting those detractors in the same box as much of the international community. Most of Israel's critics, sometimes unfairly, criticize Israel’s settlement policy and treatment of the Palestinians, but they don’t question Israel’s right to exist or the legitimacy of Zionism. That is why legislation like the travel ban is so dangerous: it puts both camps in the same box. It equates those who hate Jews with those who love Israel but oppose settlements deep inside the West Bank.
By treating these groups equally, Israel will create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which they merge into one, since simply being against settlements invites the same level of opprobrium from the Israeli government as supporting all-out boycotts. Should Israel decide to annex parts of the West Bank, this process will progress even more quickly. It will be the biggest accomplishment of the BDS movement to date as its effective numbers will increase exponentially and lead Israel to unprecedented isolation, increasing support for international sanctions and a one-state reality.
The Israeli right argues that the world hates Israel regardless of its actions and that settlements are a distraction elevated to an excuse, yet Israel’s most prosperous time of developing relationships with new countries came in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords and peace with Jordan. The only way for Israel to effectively expose BDS and change the rules of the game at the UN is to take the initiative, and advance responsible steps to preserve two states.
Eli W. Kowaz is Israel Policy Forum’s Communications Director, based in New York. Follow him on Twitter: @elikowaz