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Israel’s Mr. United Nations

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Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, on Friday.
Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, on Friday.Credit: Jeenah Moon/AP

If Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, ever writes his autobiography, it already has a name: “Forgotten at the UN.” It’s quite strange that while political tensions between the two camps in Israel are depicted in terms of civil war, Erdan manages to faithfully represent both sides to their satisfaction. If he remains at the United Nations as ambassador of the new government, he can star in the Haaretz Brain Strain quiz: How many different governments has Erdan represented at the United Nations?

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Be that as it may, “the ambassador of all of us” has recently had to repel all sorts of interesting initiatives associated with some strange and foreign people asking to be addressed as “the Palestinian people.” Netanyahu’s supporters credit him with managing “to remove the Palestinian issue from the global agenda.” Well, not quite. On Wednesday night, the UN General Assembly approved a Palestinian resolution to hold a major event in the assembly chamber on May 15, the day the Palestinians mark the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. This is the day after the Gregorian date marking the establishment of the State of Israel, known here as Independence Day.

One can of course disparage the resolution, as the right wing regularly does to supranational organizations. Who is the United Nations anyway? And yet, I wouldn’t rush to belittle the institution that voted to establish the State of Israel and grant it international recognition. To my mind, the recent resolution indicates a conceptual change with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and not exactly the way Netanyahu intended. It appears from the resolution that Netanyahu’s real “achievement” is that he did indeed manage to take debate over the occupation and the future of the territories off the global agenda, but only to replace it with a debate over the justification of our existence. This is diplomatic crime and punishment: Whoever didn’t want to debate the 1967 borders condemned us to debate the 1948 borders.

Israel’s lack of willingness to discuss the two-state solution does not mean the Palestinian problem has been erased, as is claimed on the right; instead, it promotes talk of a one-state solution on the world’s agenda. This is how to understand last month’s UN commission decision to adopt the Palestinian Authority-led resolution to seek the International Court of Justice’s opinion on the implications of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and to decide whether it is still temporary.

If the occupation is not temporary – that is, if Israel has annexed the territories de facto – it is then impossible to disregard claims that it is an apartheid regime (and it is even possible that the Palestinian struggle to establish a Palestinian state will be replaced by a demand for Israeli citizenship for all). The irony is that the only way for Israel to fend off criticism of the apartheid in the territories will be to insist that its presence there is occupation.

There are no vacuums in history, either. If Israel is not discussing 1967, it falls into a discussion of 1948. If Israel refuses the two-state solution, it opens the door to a one-state solution. If there’s no occupation, there’s apartheid. The “temporary” nature of the occupation meant recognition of Israel’s willingness to return the territories in the framework of a peace agreement. Without this horizon, there is nothing to support temporariness. What exactly is temporary here?

So the temporariness is over, and according to the election results, so are the excuses. A fully right-wing government that says an absolute no to the “Oslo path” and territorial compromise will soon have to begin formulating what it does want. One cannot know how the Palestinians will respond and how the world will respond. The only thing that’s certain is that Erdan will be there to defend it in the United Nations.

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