Israel’s Ambassador to the UN talks straight about the Security Council.
by Ron Prosor
In the barren deserts of the Middle East, myths find fertile ground to grow wild. Facts often remain buried in the sand. The myths forged in our region travel abroad – and can surprisingly find their way into these halls.
I would like to use today’s debate as an opportunity to address just a few of the myths that have become a permanent hindrance to our discussion of the Middle East here at the United Nations.
Myth #1: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is the central conflict in the Middle East. If you solve that conflict, you solve all the other conflicts in the region.
Make no mistake: It is important for Israel and the Palestinians to resolve our longstanding conflict for its own merits. Yet, the truth is that conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Bahrain and many other parts of the Middle East have absolutely nothing to do with Israel.
It is obvious that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict won’t stop the persecution of minorities across the region, end the subjugation of women, or heal the sectarian divides. Obsessing over Israel has not stopped Assad’s tanks from flattening entire communities. On the contrary, it has only distracted attention from his crimes…
Iran’s ambitions for nuclear weapons are the single greatest threat to the world.
Dedicating the majority of this debate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, month after month after month, has not stopped the Iranian regime’s centrifuges from spinning. Iran’s ambitions for nuclear weapons are the single greatest threat to the Middle East, and the entire world.
The Iranian nuclear program continues to advance at the speed of an express train. The international community’s efforts to stop them are moving at the pace of the local train, pausing at every stop for some nations to get on and off. The danger of inaction is clear. We cannot allow the diplomatic channel to provide another avenue for the Iranian regime to stall for more time, as they inch closer and closer to a nuclear weapon.
Myth #2: There is a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
In fact, numerous international organizations have said clearly that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including the Deputy Head of the Red Cross Office in the area.
Gaza’s real GDP grew by more than 25 percent during the first three quarters of 2011. Exports are expanding. International humanitarian projects are moving forward at a rapid pace.
There is not a single civilian good that cannot enter Gaza today. Yet, as aid flows into the area, missiles fly out. This is the crisis in Gaza. And that is what keeps Gaza from realizing its real potential.
It is a simple equation. If it is calm in Israel, it will be calm in Gaza. But the people of Gaza will face hardship as long as terrorists use them as human shields to rain rockets down on Israeli cities.
Each rocket in Gaza is armed with a warhead capable of causing a political earthquake that would extend well beyond Israel’s borders. It will only take one rocket that lands in the wrong place at the wrong time to change the equation on the ground. If that happens, Israel’s leaders would be forced to respond in a completely different manner.
It is time for all in this Chamber to finally wake up to that dangerous reality. The Security Council has not condemned a single rocket attack from Gaza. History’s lessons are clear. Today’s silence is tomorrow’s tragedy.
Myth #3: Settlements are the primary obstacle to peace.
How many times have we heard that argument in this chamber? Just this month, the Human Rights Council proposed yet another “fact-finding” mission to Israel. It will explore… surprise, surprise… Israeli settlements.
Arabs sought Israel’s annihilation when not a single settlement stood in the West Bank or Gaza.
Today, I’d like to save the Human Rights Council and the international community some time and energy. The facts have already been found. They are plain for all to see. The fact is that from 1948 until 1967, the West Bank was part of Jordan, and Gaza was part of Egypt. The Arab world did nothing – it did not lift a finger – to create a Palestinian state. And it sought Israel’s annihilation when not a single settlement stood anywhere in the West Bank or Gaza.
The fact is that in 2005, when I was the Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, we took every settlement out of Gaza – and only got rockets on our cities in return.
The fact is that this Israeli Government put in place an unprecedented 10-month moratorium on settlements. The Palestinian leadership used the gesture as an opportunity to take Israel and the international community on another ride to nowhere. For nine out of those ten months, they rejected the moratorium as insufficient – and then demanded that we extend it. As former U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell said “what had been less than worthless a few months earlier became indispensable to continue negotiations” for the Palestinians.
The primary obstacle to peace is not settlements. The primary obstacle to peace is the so-called “claim of return” – and the Palestinian’s refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
You will never hear Palestinian leaders say “two states for two peoples.” You won’t hear them say “two states for two peoples” because today the Palestinian leadership is calling for an independent Palestinian state, but insists that its people return to the Jewish state. This would mean the destruction of Israel.
Some of you might say, “Oh Ambassador, but the Palestinians know that they will have to give up this claim; that’s what they whisper quietly at the negotiating table.”
The Palestinian leadership has never, ever said publicly that they will give up the so-called “claim of return” – neither to the Palestinian people, nor to the Arab World, nor to the international community, or to anyone else.
Since the Palestinian leadership refuses to tell the Palestinian people the truth, the international community has the responsibility and duty to tell them the truth. You have a duty to stand up and say that the so-called “claim of return” is a non-starter.
Instead of telling the Palestinian people the truth, much of the international community stands idle as the Arab world tries to erase the Jewish people’s historical connection to the Land of Israel.
Across the Arab world you hear claims that Israel is “Judaizing Jerusalem.” These accusations come about 3,000 years too late. It’s like accusing the NBA of Americanizing basketball.
“Judaizing Jerusalem” is like accusing the NBA of Americanizing basketball.
Like many nations around this table, the Jewish people have a proud legacy of age-old kings and queens. It’s just that our tradition goes back a few years earlier. Since King David laid the cornerstone for his palace in the 10th century BCE, Jerusalem has served as the heart of our faith. In debate after debate, speakers sit in the Security Council and say that Israel is committing “ethnic cleansing” in Jerusalem, even though the percentage of Arab residents in the city has grown from 26% to 35% since 1967.
The holiest sites in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, were closed only to Jews from 1948 until 1967. Everyone could come to these sites except Jews. There was absolutely no freedom of worship. The world did not say a word about the situation in Jerusalem at that time. Since Israel unified the city, it has thrived under the values of tolerance and freedom. For the first time in centuries, sacred places that were once sealed off along religious lines are now permanently open for worship by all peoples. This is a principle grounded in our values, our actions and our laws.
There is another great truth that the UN has completely overlooked for the past 64 years. In all of the pages that the UN has written about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, in all of its reports and fact-finding commissions, and in all of the hours dedicated to debate about the Middle East, there is one great untold story. Or – to be more specific – there are more than 850,000 untold stories.
More than 850,000 Jews have been uprooted from their homes in Arab countries during the past 64 years. These were vibrant communities dating back 2,500 years. On the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Babylonian Jewry produced many of Judaism’s holiest books – and thrived for two millennia. In the great synagogues and libraries of Cairo, Jews preserved the intellectual and scientific treasures of antiquity into the Renaissance. From Aleppo to Aden to Alexandria, Jews stood out as some of the greatest artists, musicians, businessmen and writers.
In over 1000 UN resolutions on the Middle East, not a single syllable mentions the Jewish refugees.
All of these communities were wiped out. Age-old family businesses and properties were confiscated. Jewish quarters were destroyed. Pogroms left synagogues looted, graveyards desecrated and thousands dead. The pages that the UN has written about the Palestinian refugees could fill up soccer stadiums, but not a drop of ink has been spilled about the Jewish refugees. Out of over 1088 UN resolutions on the Middle East, you will not find a single syllable regarding the displacement of Jewish refugees. There have been more than 172 resolutions exclusively devoted to Palestinian refugees, but not one dedicated to Jewish refugees.
The Palestinian refugees have their own UN agency, their own information program, and their own department within the United Nations. None exist for the Jewish refugees. The word “double-standard” does not even begin to describe this gap. This discrepancy is very convenient for some in this Chamber, but it’s not right. The time has come for the UN to end its complicity in trying to erase the stories of 850,000 people from history.
The time has also come to speak openly in these halls about the Arab world’s role in maintaining the Palestinians as refugees for more than six decades. Jews from Arab countries came to refugee camps in Israel, which eventually gave birth to thriving towns and cities. Refugee camps in Arab countries gave birth to more Palestinian refugees. Israel welcomed its Jewish refugees with citizenship and unlocked their vast potential. As they rose to the highest levels of society, our refugees lifted the State of Israel to new heights. Imagine if Arab countries had done the same with their Palestinian refugees. Instead, they have cynically perpetuated their status as refugees, for generation after generation. Across the Arab world, Palestinians have been denied citizenship, rights and opportunities.
All of these are facts that must be neither forgotten nor overlooked, as we look to move forward on the path to peace.
I’ve saved the most obvious myth for last: the myth that peace can somehow be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians by bypassing direct negotiations. History has shown that peace and negotiations are inseparable. Direct negotiations are the only tool, the only way and the only path to create two states for two peoples.
Last January, Israel offered a clear proposal in Amman for restarting direct negotiations. We presented the Palestinian delegation with negotiating positions on every major issue separating the parties. That proposal – filled with Israel’s vision for peace – continues to gather dust, as Palestinian leaders continue to pile up new preconditions for sitting with Israel. They are everywhere except the negotiating table. It is time for them to give up unilateral efforts to internationalize the conflict and take up the real path to peace.
This month we observe the two most significant public holidays in Israel – our Memorial Day and Independence Day. Sirens sound across Israel. For two minutes, everything comes to a halt. People stop in their tracks, cars pull over to the side of highways, and the entire country pauses to remember the more than 22,000 Israelis who have been killed by wars and terrorism in our nation’s short history. The next day, we celebrate the rebirth of the Jewish nation as a free people in our ancient homeland. Against persistent threats and overwhelming odds, Israel has not only survived, but thrived.
I walk the halls of the UN tall and proud of my extraordinary nation – a nation of just 7 million that has produced 10 Nobel prizes; a nation that sends satellites into space, puts electric cars on the road, and develops the technology to power everything from cell phones to solar panels to medical devices.
We intentionally commemorate these two days one after another. As the Israeli people celebrate our independence, we carry the heavy weight of great suffering and sacrifice. The lesson we take from these days is clear. We can never turn a blind eye to the dangers around us. We cannot pretend that we live in a stable region filled with Jeffersonian democracies.
But there is another lesson that fills the hearts of Israelis. We can never, ever give up hope for lasting peace. The price of conflict is too high. The evil of war is too great. That is the fundamental truth which guides our leaders.
In the dangerous uncertainty of a turbulent Middle East, the UN Security Council has never had a greater responsibility to separate myth from truth, and fact from fiction. The clarity of candor has never been more valuable. The need for honest discourse has never been clearer. It is time for this Council to sweep out the cobwebs of old illusions – and plant the seeds for a truly “open” debate on the Middle East. The challenges before us demand nothing less.