The US ambassador to the United Nations accused the world body of harboring a bias against Israel, while speaking in Tel Aviv on Monday night.
Samantha Power, addressing a group of Model UN participants at a school in Even Yehuda, east of the coastal city of Netanya, pointed to the rejection of rescue organization ZAKA as proof of the world body’s singling out of Israel for criticism.
“Bias has extended well beyond Israel as a country, Israel as an idea,” she said of the UN and particularly the UN Human Rights Council.
“Israel is just not treated like other countries,” she added during a Q&A session, while also maintaining that there are legitimate criticisms of the Jewish state.
Israeli officials have long complained that the United Nations is biased against the Jewish state. Newly minted Israeli envoy Danny Danon recently accused Turtle Bay of being anti-Semitic in its criticism of Israel.
But Power said the issue wasn’t the world body but the countries that make it up, expressing hope that it can improve.
“When we see bias, injustice or the continuation of strife within the United Nations, it is not because the UN created all of this, it is because the UN gathers governments and gathers problems, and being in the UN doesn’t change the biases of those governments,” she said.
Power, whose visit was seen by some analysts as a sign of renewed US interest in jump-starting peace talks, admitted that the situation was not ripe for new negotiations, though the US would continue to pursue a two-state solution.
“I would expect that pursuit to continue, and right now we hope the parties will take steps to move them closer again to restart negotiations, which is not a position they are in now,” she said. “We will dedicate ourselves to that as long as we are in office.”
Power also expressed hope that students participating in the Model UN would soon be able to sit behind a “Palestine placard,” backing the importance of a two-state solution.
“You must strive to wade side by side into the toughest issues, because it is you and your children and the generations following them who will reap the benefits of the peace you’ve built, or else endure the suffering of ongoing strife,” she urged the students.
Earlier in the day, Power met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who urged her to spur the world to take action against what he said was official Palestinian incitement to violence, spurring a wave of fighting that has rocked the country for the last several months.
— Samantha Power (@AmbPower44) February 15, 2016
Power also met with President Reuven Rivlin, who asked her to pass on a message to Abbas that Israel wanted new peace talks.
“He must understand the conflict between us — the tragedy between us — can only be solved through direct negotiations. No solution can be imposed on either side, and we must negotiate to come to an understanding.”
Power told Rivlin she wanted to hear his ideas for bringing the sides back to the negotiating table.
“At a time of difficult and tragic violence, in which so many Israeli and Palestinian families have suffered, I am keen to hear your thoughts about how tensions can be calmed, and how we can get back on track in the hope that a solution can be negotiated,” she said, according to a statement from Rivlin’s office.
The US has reportedly put new peace negotiations on the back burner as President Barack Obama plays out his presidency. US officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have been involved in efforts to calm spiraling tensions in recent months.
On Saturday, Power met in Ramallah with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to discuss regional security and humanitarian issues, as well as moving forward on a two-state solution.
“Ambassador Power underscored our continued support for the Palestinian people, condemned recent violence, and urged leaders on both sides to take measures to reduce tension and restore calm,” a statement from her office read.
Before speaking in Even Yehuda, Power toured the Hand in Hand Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem, meeting with both first-grade and high school students, and participating in a music lesson, a talk with the teenagers, and a soccer game.
Speaking to a panel of six high school students — Jewish, Christian, and Muslim — Power praised them for being the “best ambassadors peace can have.”
Power — who visited the school with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro — asked the students about their experiences outside the classroom, when they return home to their respective Jewish or Arab neighborhoods, and how they felt after their school was targeted in an arson attack in 2014 by Jewish extremists.
“Fear is natural,” she said, noting the recent terror wave since October 2015, in which over 30 Israelis have been killed in almost-daily stabbings, shootings, and car-ramming attacks.
“We in the US just experienced a terror attack in California,” she added, referring to the San Bernardino shooting. “People start to worry, start to profile people, because for us it’s new.”
But the way to overcome fear, Power said, “is to see people’s faces.
“It’s breaking down the walls, the echo chambers” that will be the most important in reaching a long-term peace agreement, she said.
While addressing the students, who hailed the school for fostering coexistence, Power was cut off by the school bell — an unobtrusive, soft and slow-paced tune. That bell, quipped the US envoy in response, “tells you everything you need to know about the school.”