What Can Israel Expect at the UN During a Biden Administration?
JNS.org – Despite efforts by its detractors, Israel has seen a steady improvement in its diplomatic standing around the world with breakthroughs in relations with Arab states, Africa, Asia and Latin America. Nevertheless, the United Nations, with its decades of anti-Israel hostility, remains a source of concern for the Jewish state.
Indeed, recently the United States and Israel voted against the world body’s 2021 budget due to antisemitism and anti-Israel bias, particularly with regard to a planned follow-up event to the 2001 Durban Conference in South Africa, which was replete with antisemitic undertones.
With one week to go before President-elect Joe Biden and his administration, concerns have been circulating that America may shift its approach or even return towards a more unfriendly posture seen at the world body in the waning days of the Obama administration, which saw it censure Israel over its settlement activity.
Danny Danon, Israel’s 17th permanent representative to the United Nations and chairman of the World Likud, told JNS that he hopes the conversation at the United Nations will now focus on the broader Middle East and the Iranian proxies in the region, and not just on Israel.
“We need to make sure all the other issues are being discussed and not only the anti-Israel agenda that is on the table,” he said.
Noting the important changes that have taken place in the region over the last few months, Danon said he would encourage the incoming Biden administration to continue the momentum created by the Abraham Accords, which saw the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco accept normalization agreements with Israel.
A key question, he said, is the return to the nuclear deal Iran signed in 2015 with the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom and Germany), officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
Danon said Israel expects the incoming administration to first consult with the key actors in the region, including Israel, of course, before taking any action or re-entering the agreement.
“During the campaign, we heard voices expressing the need to rejoin the JCPOA and to do so immediately without preconditions,” he said. “Now, we are hearing different voices, which we welcome, and we are seeing the right approach.”
A focus on human rights
Eytan Gilboa, an expert on American politics and foreign policy, as well as a senior research associate at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, told JNS that Israel “should expect a radical change in the American approach to the UN in general and to UN agencies in particular.”
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a 35-year veteran of the State Department who served as ambassador to Liberia, has been appointed by Biden to be the next ambassador to the United Nations.
She is almost certain to have a more prominent voice in the Biden administration, as the UN ambassador’s role will once again rise to a cabinet-level position (Nikki Haley was a cabinet-level ambassador, but the role was demoted under Kelly Craft).
While Thomas-Greenfield’s service in the State Department largely focused on West African affairs, she has had a long career as a Foreign Service officer, and is well-respected and known in foreign policy circles, serving under Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
Indeed, Biden has made it clear that a focus when it comes to international relations will be to rebuild American alliances and return to a less antagonistic role in international organizations such as NATO.
“We are going to see the restoration of collaboration with international organizations and multilateral diplomacy,” said Gilboa.
As such, Gilboa fears that Israel’s detractors may up the pressure on the Jewish state to again see “an avalanche of disproportionate, ridiculous anti-Israel resolutions.”
“We are not going to see the [Donald] Trump approach of confronting the United Nations, and criticizing the conduct and behavior of these organizations,” lamented Gilboa, saying the US president “was right” in criticizing UN bodies for their biased approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. “The United Nations, the General Assembly and the agencies are corrupt, politicized and ineffective—and someone had to show all of that to them in the mirror.”
Gilboa said Israel needs to worry about the UN Human Rights Council, “which is the most corrupt and politicized agency.”
“Unfortunately,” he said, “the European Union respects this corrupt institution, which does nothing about human rights in the world. Its member states are the worst violators of human rights.” And because of this, he emphasized, Israel “will have less protection.”
He noted that the Council on Human Rights, the UNHRC’s predecessor, was abolished because of over-politicization.
Former US President Barack Obama rejoined the UNHRC hoping for some reforms, “but got nowhere,” said Gilboa. “The conclusion should have been to get out and cut funding. He did not do it. Trump did it.”
“This is one area Israel will have to fight this corrupt institution by itself,” he said.
One ambassador in a dual role
Another concern, continued Gilboa, is the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. There is hope for Israel that a policy of delegitimizing the court will be somewhat helpful since the court is also investigating the United States over its actions in Afghanistan.
Gilboa suggested the Biden administration would fight the accusations, “but we don’t know because it will run against the general philosophy of collaboration with the UN and its agencies. Israel has to prepare for that.”
Israel must also “convince the Biden administration” that the problems at the world body and its agencies are “not just against Israel, but also against the United States and all democratic countries.”
Gilboa said that if the Biden administration seeks collaboration “without taking into consideration what is really happening at the UN and its agencies, then obviously, they will not improve the status of peacemaking, peacekeeping or human rights because the U.N. agency responsible for human rights is doing exactly the opposite by focusing just on Israel.”
He said he is also worried that Israel now has only one ambassador to both the United Nations and Washington: Gilad Erdan.
“This is a mistake,” he said, warning that one person for both jobs “would not be good for meeting the challenges” of each arena.
Rumors that Mossad director Yossi Cohen will become the next ambassador to the United States have been circulating, and Gilboa said he believes it would be “a good move.”
Without one ambassador in Washington and another ambassador at the United Nations, Gilboa said he believes that “Israel’s ability to challenge, if necessary, the policies of the Biden administration would be diminished.”