(March 22, 2018 / JNS) Despite the role of the United Nations in helping establish the State of Israel in 1947, the world body has long been a forum used by other nations to single out and condemn the Jewish state. While this targeting of Israel has not abated in recent years, including the passage of a slew of anti-Israel resolutions by UNESCO that deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the U.N. Human Rights Council “blacklist” of companies doing business in the disputed territories, there have been some signs of positive change for Israel.
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon spoke to JNS about changing the atmosphere at the world body, as well as his experience working the U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, addressing the growing threat from Iran and Hezbollah, and the prospects of peace with the Palestinians.
Q: In the past two-and-a-half years, you have been selected to the U.N. Legal Committee and as vice president of the General Assembly—positions no Israeli ambassador has held before. At the same time, we have seen continued anti-Israel resolutions in UNESCO and the U.N. Human Rights Council’s blacklist. Do you feel that the environment is changing there?
A: I think what we have seen in the last two years is that we were able to change the atmosphere in the U.N. While you still have one-sided decisions against Israel, we were able to take the lead and initiative. We have had many events initiated in the U.N., [and] the fact that I was elected for the first time to chair a U.N. committee was a very important step for us.
I think today in terms of the atmosphere, it is different because of all the activities we have had. For instance, we are going to hold an event about water technology with the president of the general assembly, and many speakers and experts from Israel. Then we will actually have a [Passover] seder inside of the U.N. with diplomats and ambassadors.
We have ongoing activities that enable us to tell the true story about Israel. The U.N. isn’t anymore a place where you only see Israel-bashing.
Q: It is no secret that Haley has shaken things up at the United Nations. Can you describe your relationship with her and any initiatives you are working on jointly to counter anti-Israel bias?
A: We appreciate the new spirit of ambassador Nikki Haley; she has been very important and helpful. It is a two-way relationship as well. We were the only country to stand with the U.S. and vote against Resolution 11967, which condemns U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba.
It is a real partnership, and we are grateful for that. We work very closely with ambassador Haley and her team. We see similar issues, and understand the challenges and threats. That’s why you see the cooperation because we come from the same values.
Q: What are your thoughts on President Donald Trump’s ultimatum on the Iran nuclear deal?
A: Our position about the Iran deal is very clear. As the [Israeli] prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] said, we should either fix it or nix it. And I think the approach by President Trump is the right approach. You cannot ignore it. Some European countries tend to think they can ignore it, and everything will be OK. But that is not the case, and we believe that U.S. leadership is capable of changing the reality.
Q: Given Russia and China’s veto power in the United Nations, what can be done against Iran?
A: I think that the U.N. should look at the existing Security Council resolutions that are not being accepted by the Iranians—the ballistic-missiles tests and other decisions of supporting terrorism in the region. They can start with enforcing those resolutions.
Q: During the past year, you have brought evidence before the U.N. Security Council several times of Hezbollah’s violation of Resolution 1701. What steps are you taking at the United Nations to counter Hezbollah?
A: When you look at the reality in southern Lebanon, it is very disturbing. You see the number of weapons and missiles, and you see the violation of Resolution 1701. Every time we read the reports [on UNIFIL], I ask why no one mentions the fact that UNIFIL forces are not allowed to enter the villages and forests in southern Lebanon. They cannot actually stop anything because Hezbollah will not allow them into the region.
It is disturbing because if Hezbollah tries to use the rockets against Israel, we will retaliate. And then it will not be easy for the people in southern Lebanon, and I am sure the international community will convene immediately to condemn Israel. What I am trying to do is point out what is happening in order to avoid the next conflict, enforce Resolution 1701, stop the cooperation between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah, and remind the Lebanese army to stop allowing Hezbollah to stock weapons and missiles along the border.
Q: Next door in Syria, Iran is making steady inroads. What can be done about that?
A: Some people in the international community say let’s wait till the Islamic State is defeated, then we will deal with Iran. This is a mistake; we have to act now. We have to stop Iran from extending their empire across the region.
Iran is sponsoring Shi’a militias across Syria. This is unacceptable; we cannot accept the reality we have today. With Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, we cannot allow Iran to open a second front in the Golan Heights.
Q: It was recently reported by Israel Hayom that Israel may abandon its bid for a Security Council seat. Could you confirm this report?
A: I cannot confirm that report. Israel is entitled to be in every body in the U.N., including the Security Council. We try to espouse the true story about Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu came to the U.N. earlier this month to attend an exhibition about the archaeology of Jerusalem. We will continue to have many events here at the U.N. to show the true face of Israel.
Q: What are your thoughts on the recent firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump’s selection of CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his replacement?
A: We’ve had a very good relationship with the American administration, and we will continue to work closely with the State Department. We’ve had a very good experience with Mr. Pompeo in his previous position, and I have no doubt he will continue to support the process.
Q: Following President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to denounce it. What has been the reaction you have seen?
A: We applaud President Trump for his bold decision on Jerusalem. After that [General Assembly] resolution, people moved on to other issues; it really shows that it did not have the concern people thought. I am optimistic that after the embassy moves to Jerusalem in May that more countries will announce their moving as well. Guatemala also announced [it will] move their embassy, and we are in touch with other countries on the issue.
Q: Given the murky political situation back home, turnover in the Trump administration and strained U.S.-Palestinian relations, do you think it’s a good time for the Trump administration to unveil a peace plan?
A: We appreciate the work of the Trump administration on this issue. I think when you have the U.S. and other international partners involved it can support the process. But we believe that eventually, we are going to have to have direct negotiations with the Palestinians. It is the only way to move forward with peace, just like when we had peace with the Egyptians and the Jordanians.
But if you look at Mr. [Mahmoud] Abbas’s speech a few weeks ago at the U.N., I am not very optimistic; he shows no interest in coming back and negotiating with us.