Ambassador at Mercy of a Bit of Bad Timing


Ambassador Meron Reuben was having a harder time than usual as Israel's top diplomat at the United Nations.

It wasn't just because of the latest Palestinian-led effort to pass a resolution in the Security Council to condemn Israeli settlements. It was also because of an Israeli labor dispute that was preventing Foreign Ministry officials from doing their jobs.

The dispute, which has been disrupting the work of Israel's foreign-service corps, ended with an agreement on Monday, but not before several weeks went by when Israeli diplomats were under strict orders not to conduct any "official" business.

For Reuben, Israel's interim ambassador in New York, the timing couldn't have been worse.

Last week, he found himself in the bizarre situation of not being able to address the U.N. Security Council during its quarterly open debate on the Middle East, traditionally one of the U.N.'s prime times for Israel-bashing.

Not only was he unable to provide the usual lone voice defending Israel, he also had to apologize to each Security Council member for not showing up.

Every time Israel isn't able to act diplomatically at the United Nations is a loss, he acknowledged in an interview while in Philadelphia last week to address a reception for local academics hosted by the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia.

"It's important that Israel's voice be heard; it is a lone voice," said Reuben, a South African native who also serves as his country's ambassador to Colombia.

Still, there was some wiggle room for Reuben to act behind the scenes on some pressing issues, including the resolution put forth by the Palestinians that says that Israeli settlements are illegal and must stop.

The resolution has been officially submitted to the Security Council; now the battle is over whether Security Council members will vote on it. It has generated tremendous debate in the media, with speculation about whether the United States will try to prevent a vote or use its veto power if it does come to a vote.

Stressing that Israel hopes the resolution "won't come to a vote," Reuben stated that such a resolution would "not be very helpful" in putting the peace process back on track.

The Palestinians, he said, "are hiding behind the settlement issue, rather than dealing with the true issues," including refugees, water and the status of Jerusalem.

The Palestinian strategy to seek unilateral international recognition of a state — which Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has vowed to do — is counterproductive, he said.

"If they want to set up a viable Palestinian state," he said, "they need to talk to us." The fact that they haven't returned to the negotiation table "leads us to the conclusion that they're not interested in a state or negotiations."

Reuben sees his main task at the global body as one of persuading the nations of the world of Israel's cause. But other work that Israel does with U.N. agencies — efforts that garner fewer headlines — is just as important, he said.

Israel has so much to offer in fields such as science, technology, agriculture and education, he said, that that is where much of his mission's energy is expended.

He cited, for example, the Israeli government's recent decision to increase its funding for U.N. projects related to women, its interest in taking on a key role on its reforestation committee, and its leadership in helping to reduce the worldwide trade in blood diamonds.



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