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Netanyahu Settles Score With UN

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Benyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu first caught the eye of the Israeli public when he served as an eloquent Ambassador to the U.N. He has now returned to the General Assembly to make a masterful defense of the Jewish state's struggle for survival, not only in the Middle East, but also in UN bodies that single her for 'special treatment'.

It is fair to say that most Israelis, and not all supporters of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, felt like standing up and cheering at the end of his forceful address to the U.N. General Assembly. 'Bibi' pulled no punches - in the face of the tirades of Israel bashing by UN bodies, he went on the offensive. For the record, Neyanyahu first established his credentials as leader of an ancient people whose historic ties to the Land of Israel go back 3500 years. As if to ask the 192 other states how many of them could claim such a patrimony or inherent right to national self- determination. And if any further proof were needed, the words of the Jewish prophet Isiah were inscribed as the motto of the UN. Therefore, it followed: 'We (Jews) are no strangers in Jerusalem' built by King David some 2800 years ago.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

But it was the current Iran, bent on acquiring nuclear weapons while threatening to wipe the Jewish state off the map, that was first addressed by Netanyahu. The ranting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad has even gone so far as to deny the Holocaust branding it as a 'big lie'. ( If there were no such Holocaust, Ahemadenijad would be the first to perpetrate one). Then rising above the torrents of words from Libyan leader Muamar Kadaffi and Ahamdenijad, the Israeli leader displayed the original German blueprints for the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, where one million Jews were massacred and also the protocols of the Wansee conference that detailed the 'final solution' for exterminating the Jewish race. Were these also lies and were German governments also lying when they admitted their country bore responsibility for the crime? Could anyone still doubt that Iranian leaders were also lying when they denied that all their uranium enrichment and missile development were solely for 'peaceful purposes'. Not only, Iran was taken to task. Netanyahu also shamed those U.N. members who had not walked out during Ahmadenijad's speech but lent legitimacy to the Iranian leader by listening to a leader who has repeatedly called for the annihilation of another member state, in violation of the UN's own charter.

Would UN members stand up to the tyrants of Tehran and prevent them from developing nuclear weapons that posed a threat not only to Israel but to the entire world community? Would the UN also support the Iranian protesters who defied the brutal regime. Although the signs were not encouraging, the jury was still out in Netanyahu's view.

Then came the UN's Human Rights Council and its Goldstone Report on whether Israel was guilty of war crimes in its conduct of the IDF's 'Cast Lead' military operation to halt 8 years of Palestinian rocketing from Gaza of Israeli civilians. Some at the UN had condemned the Israeli victims rather than the Palestinian terrorists. And Netanyahu asked how many UN resolutions during all of those 8 years had condemned the rocketing. 'Absolutely none!' - the UN had done nothing to try and stop the rocketing of Israelis but it was galvanized into action, at the behest of the Arab dominated Human Rights Council, when Israel had the gall to stop the rocketing. (Since 'Cast Lead' the massive shelling from Gaza has stopped, although there are still some sporadic rockets launched at Israeli communities across the border.)

Barack Obama

Netanyahu then drew a comparison between how Israel, conducted its war against terrorism with other democracies. Naturally, the most obvious examples are the U.S., British and other NATO forces fighting, a similar terror threat in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, rather than embarrass Israel's allies, whose civilians are not under similar rocket fire, Netanyahu diplomatically drew a comparison with World War II. Nazi Germany had committed a grave war crime by its indiscriminate bombing of British cities. In retaliation, Allied leaders decided to level German cities also causing hundreds of thousands of German casualties. Netanyahu was not passing judgment, but Israel had decided to act differently in Gaza - she had tried hard not to harm innocent Palestinians used by guerrillas even as human shields. Guerrillas who deliberately opened fire from inside homes, schools, mosques while transporting weapons and fighters in ambulances. The Prime Minister declared:'Never has a country gone so far not to harm innocent civilians by dropping tens of thousands of fliers and making tens of thousands of cell calls to warn Palestinian civilians to clear out of guerrilla areas. Yet who did, the UN's Human Rights Council condemn? Israel, who was the victim while virtually ignoring the aggressor. Netanyahu concluded that with this approach the Human Rights Council would have dragged Roosevelt and Churchill to the dock for war crimes. It was time to end the farce. Would UN members stand with the terrorists or with Israel?

Palestinian Peace Talks: Netanyahu pledged: 'If the Palestinians truly want peace, I and my government will make peace'. In the past, Israel had proven it desire for peace with Egypt and Jordan. But in light of Israel's bitter experiences after the evacuations of Gaza and south Lebanon, Israel must have security-any future Palestinian state must be demilitarized. Israel was not prepared for more Iranian supported fanatics (like Hamas & Hezbollah) to take control of the West Bank.

Back in Jerusalem, even Netanyahu's critics had to admit the Prime Minister had spoken eloquently and forcefully to the world. President Shimon Peres telephoned Netanyahu immediately to tell him: ' You have spoken from the heart and penetrated the soul!' Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is under Labor party pressure to bolt the Netanyahu government and accompanied the PM to the UN later remarked: 'Bibi's speech will be embedded in the international consciousness'. (Arabic speaking Israeli experts, who monitor the Arabic world, noticed that even Arab commentators gave Netanyahu high marks for an impressive presentation, even if they did not agree with his views.) Chances are that Netanyahu will gain points in Israeli performance polls.

Overall, the Prime Minister has good reason to return home pleased. President Obama for the first time has spoken specifically about a Jewish state and this is of immense importance. (Envoy George Mitchell has referred to 'the Jewish state of Israel' but this naturally does not bear the weight of a presidential decree.) Even 'moderate' Palestinians who may be ready to negotiate with Israel reject the idea that Jews should have a homeland in the state of Israel. Netanyahu has been the first Israeli prime minister to insist unequivocally that the Palestinians must accept Israel as the Jewish state - the same way they demand that Israel accept 'Palestine'. It should be understood this is not simply a matter of diplomatic semantics, it goes to the very core of the conflict.

President Mahmoud Abbas (Photo: Amit Shabi)

As long as the Palestinian leadership does not educate its people for peace with the Jewish state, as did Egypt's President Sadat and Jordan's King Hussein, they will hold open the idea that one day they will go back to Haifa, Lyda, Acre etc. In other words, the conflict will remain open-ended and existential in nature, perhaps to be pursued by other means at another time. This naturally also has a bearing on the refugee issue and what the Palestinians call 'their right of return'. At the same time, Obama although letting Netanyahu off the hook with the Israeli partial moratorium on settlements, has again expressed his opposition to settlement building. The Palestinians are also up in arms that Obama has not insisted on a total Israeli settlement freeze as a condition for negotiations. Netanyahu has weathered the summit, and there appears to be a little more international support, notably spearheaded by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for imposing more severe sanctions on Iran. The Israeli Prime Minister is presenting his UN outing as a success; but will it be short or longer term? His cooperation with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in easing restrictions on West Bank Palestinians is a shot in the arm for their economy and there are signs that the U.S. trained Palestinian police units are playing a more effective role against terrorism, although Israeli security forces are still in overall control. It appears Netanyahu has gained some breathing space and perhaps built a more positive rapport with Obama. But this will also mean that the Israeli leader will now be expected to be more forthcoming. But there is no possibility of a comprehensive agreement in the foreseeable future, no matter how great the U.S. urging, because there is no lowest common denominator between Israel and the Palestinians. Just ask former super-dovish Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who, by his own admission, made vast concessions but was flabbergasted when Abbas failed to respond. Now the Palestinians, as usual, want to return to what Olmert offered, but Netanyahu insists on no prior conditions.

There still may be room for Netanyahu to move on interim steps, whether the Palestinians will view this as progress is doubtful. In any case, Netanyahu's will not be allowed to rest on his laurels and will face new tests of his statesmanship in the near future.

David Essing

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