As the United Nations General Assembly kicked off its annual general debate in New York on Wednesday, Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan sat down with JNS to discuss wide-ranging issues, from the Palestinians to Iran to Hezbollah.
JNS: Ambassador, when you look back at the past year, do you think Israel has won more votes at the U.N.?
Gilad Erdan: It depends on the vote. We have managed to erode the automatic anti-Israel majority. The most prominent example was the vote on transferring the Palestinian conflict to the International Court of Justice. Only 87 countries voted in favor. That is less than half the U.N.
It is true that the other half did not vote against it, but some abstained. In the past, such moves used to get 140 votes.
Another example was a Palestinian event to mark the 75th year of Israel as a “nakba” [“catastrophe”]. We ran a campaign and the 50 most significant countries boycotted the meeting. Many countries know the truth. Not only about Palestinian corruption, but also about Palestinian reluctance to reach an agreement.
We heard the head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas claim that Israel is responsible for the Holocaust. So, the world feels that he has completely lost it. I’m trying to show and explain that the P.A. pays terrorists and is engaged in incitement. When you add in the Abraham Accords, there is an understanding that the Palestinians are an obstacle [to peace].
JNS: How alive is the Palestinian issue at the U.N.?
Erdan: In the private conversations I conduct, there is an understanding that this should not be an issue and that it’s not going to be resolved anytime soon.
On the other hand, the U.N. has a distorted structure. After Israel survived its War of Independence against all odds, the number of countries in the U.N. increased, and many Muslim countries and countries that had nothing to do with democracy were born. These countries were allies of the Palestinians and created bodies that were distorted not only morally but also financially, such as UNRWA.
JNS: Tell me a bit about cooperation with Arab countries after the Abraham Accords.
Erdan: Israel has much more legitimacy since the Abraham Accords. Ambassadors of countries with no relations with Israel have conversations with me and cooperate with us. I unfortunately cannot say which countries, but since the accords I’ve had more and more conversations with countries with which we have no relations. There are many Muslim countries that feel comfortable participating in Israel’s events. For example, in the fields of technology and water. I’m trying to use Israel’s high-tech industry as leverage.
JNS: Ukraine is criticizing Israel regarding assistance in the war with Russia. What’s Israel’s policy when it comes to votes on that war?
Erdan: As Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., I voted with the pro-Ukraine coalition on all relevant votes. We condemned Russia, we voted to remove Russia from the Human Rights Council. In all the votes, we stood with the Ukrainians. Let me add that the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.N. is my friend.
JNS: But Ukraine doesn’t always vote with us.
Erdan: Diplomacy is not black and white. Israel has security interests that force us to have some kind of relationship with Russia. We have Jews in Russia. Ukraine also has its own interests. However, we morally support the sovereignty of Ukraine and its territorial integrity. Therefore, we vote in favor of it.
JNS: Next month, the U.S. Security Council’s missile embargo on Iran will end. What’s the next step?
Erdan: The expiration of the missile embargo on Iran comes at a time when Iran is executing protesters and murdering civilians on the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s murder. It’s also clear that Iran is violating its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
This is more proof that the harsh criticism of the JCPOA [the 2015 Iran nuclear deal] was justified and that the deal contributed nothing. All it did was give Iran international legitimacy.
There was an assumption that Iran would moderate and then the JCPOA restrictions could be removed. But we are seeing the exact opposite. Iran has become more extreme. So, the main players are now trying to close the loopholes in the agreement.
We think the Iranian issue should have been returned to the Security Council. At the moment, unfortunately, we don’t see that happening. But we do hope to see the main countries impose their own sanctions on Iran.
JNS: Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said last week that the international community is less interested in the Iran issue. Do you feel the same?
Erdan: Unfortunately, there is a sense of weakness and fatigue regarding the Iranian nuclear program. This did not start this year, however. We want to believe that the world has learned from what it has seen before its eyes—in North Korea, for example.
Now that the Iranians have reached the point that they are enriching uranium to 60% and their violations of human rights have increased, we hope that the international community’s patience will run out. The solution is diplomatic isolation, strong sanctions and a credible military threat.
JNS: Regarding Lebanon, Hezbollah recently set up a tent on Israeli territory. Will we see a solution to this crisis?
Erdan: We see the tent as a violation of our sovereignty. I sent messages to many senior U.N. officials regarding what will happen if these violations continue. Such things as proposed talks on the final demarcation of the border with Lebanon—which would be interpreted as an achievement for Hezbollah—will be nothing more than attempts at distraction until the tent is removed.
We expect the U.N. secretary-general and the Security Council to demand that the Lebanese remove the tent. Those who do not want an escalation that will return Lebanon to the Stone Age should act to return the situation to normal.
Amichai Stein is the diplomatic correspondent for Kan 11, IPBC.