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Danny in the Lions’ Den

Binyamin Rose, Jerusalem and Aryeh Ehrlich, New York

Danny Danon, on the verge of his second year as Israel’s ambassador to the UN, goes on the counterattack, but counsels patience. His battle is a marathon, not a boxing match

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

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MESSAGE RECEIVED “At my first appearance in the Security Council, I wore a yarmulke and read some chapters of Tehillim. After the session, one ambassador from a hostile country came over to me and said, ‘I don’t agree with what you said here, but let’s meet. I want to hear what you have to say’ ” (Photos: AP, Flash 90, AFP/Imagebank)

I t was the December surprise that everyone feared.

It’s not quite on the level of the shocker President Ronald Reagan pulled on December 14, 1988, when he broke a longstanding American boycott of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and entered into a “substantive dialogue” with a terrorist organization sworn to the destruction of Israel. But for President Obama, who always insisted he had Israel’s back, his refusal to order UN ambassador Samantha Power to veto UN Resolution 2334 — as the US has customarily done on one-sided resolutions — was seen in Jerusalem as a parting stab in the back.

Reagan was considered far more supportive of Israel than Obama ever was, so in that respect, Obama’s move was less surprising. However, Obama snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. One day after Israel and America’s president-elect were prematurely celebrating what they thought was their diplomatic outmaneuvering of the US by getting Egypt to withdraw the resolution it sponsored, Obama turned the tables on them, when four Security Council members forced the vote.

In the short run, the resolution changes no facts on the ground. The UN resolution does not invoke Charter VII, which governs the Security Council’s authority to take enforcement measures in response to a “threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or acts of aggression,” according to Elena Chachko, of the Lawfare Institute at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. So no settlements are actually on the chopping block, for now.

However, Chachko noted that “the resolution provides a legal basis for possible concrete action on settlements in the future.”

A new paragraph calling on all UN member states to distinguish between Israel proper and the territories it captured in June 1967 “might legitimize and intensify existing efforts to promote sanctions against Israeli products originating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, or boycott companies and institutions operating in those areas.”

However, other analysts fear the resolution is much more diabolical than merely exposing Israel to further BDS threats or action in the International Criminal Court, against individual Israelis. In a series of tweets Monday morning, Omri Ceren, managing director of The Israel Project, wrote that the US abstention on Resolution 2334, with its language labeling Israeli settlements as illegal, “nukes 25 years of US diplomatic assurances to Israel, bought with Israeli concessions.” Ceren contends the intent of Resolution 2334 is an ex post facto rewrite of international law about the Jewish state, and flips the West Bank’s legal status, weakening Israel’s stronger historical claim and strengthening the Palestinians’ claim. “It shows hostile anti-Israel diplomats can move the goalposts any time.”

Enter Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN. Danon had just returned to New York a few days earlier, following a short visit to Israel, where he escorted 14 UN ambassadors for a personal tour of the country the UN loves to malign.

Danon took the group to the border of Gaza, and on visits to Jewish towns such as Nachal Oz and Sderot, where they met citizens who often spend as much time in bomb shelters as in their homes. They visited Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital, also within rocket distance from Gaza, where the ambassadors saw how Palestinian patients receive medical care identical to what Israelis get. After a tour of Israel’s border with Gaza, the group flew north. Danon, who knows every inch of the land of Israel from his childhood days, when his father would take him on frequent tiyulim, provided the ambassadors with a visual experience of Israel’s narrow waist, its proximity to Lebanon and Syria, and then to the Golan Heights, to get a bird’s-eye view of the violent civil war that has engulfed Syria.

Asked if his fellow ambassadors left Israel with a more sympathetic view of the country’s plight, Danon said that he hopes to keep striving with this brand of ambassadorial shuttle diplomacy. “I consider this a marathon, not a boxing match where you score a knockout,” Danon says. “It’s an educational process.”

Away from the Table

Education alone can’t provide an antidote to anti-Semitism, or the international community’s aversion to Israeli settlements, which they have long held were built on “occupied territory” and contravene the Fourth Geneva Convention against the forcible transfer of civilians to territory of an occupied state.

Danny Danon shares his knowledge of the turf with fellow UN ambassadors on his recent trip to Israel

Israel’s position is that the territories are “disputed” and the prohibition against the forcible transfer of civilians to territory of an occupied state under the Fourth Geneva Convention was not intended to relate to the circumstances of voluntary Jewish settlement in the West Bank on legitimately acquired land. Legitimately — since it did not belong to a previous lawful sovereign, and since it was designated part of the Jewish state under the League of Nations Mandate.

But that position was mowed down in UN headquarters on Friday. Tension continued building over the weekend, as Israel reacted angrily to the vote, summoning ambassadors from all 15 Security Council nations — including US ambassador Dan Shapiro — for a formal diplomatic reprimand. Knesset members across the political spectrum lashed out at the US decision.

Reached by phone in New York Sunday night, and asked whether this war of words with the United States entailed risks to the special relationship between the two countries, Ambassador Danon said Israel is taking the correct stance expressing its displeasure.

“The decision of the president does not reflect the values of the American people,” Danon says. “Eighty-eight senators wrote a letter to the president asking him not to take the decision he took to abandon Israel at the Security Council. We are confident that people will understand that in the next administration they will stand for Israel.”

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