NEW YORK — After almost a week of leading Israel’s United Nations delegation, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz is preparing to hand over the reins to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while hailing Israel’s efforts at spoiling Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s “celebrations here.”
Speaking to The Times of Israel, Steinitz also dismissed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech Thursday as anti-peace.
“I think that the speech was not a speech of peace. Instead of condemning terror, it condemns those who struggle against terror. He said that we exaggerate our claims,” Steinitz explained hours after Abbas finished addressing the plenary’s general debate. “Instead of recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, he speaks about the establishment of Israel as a tragedy in terms of the ‘Nakba’.”
Steinitz accused the Palestinian leader of “lying to the world when he said that in 1948 and in 1967, Israel attacked the Palestinians when in fact, the opposite was true.”
The Netanyahu confidant said that he was disappointed by Abbas’s comments. “We did not see any change in the tone of the Palestinian Authority’s leader,” he said.
Steinitz, who was not present for Abbas’s speech Thursday, firmly rejected accusations that the delegation had boycotted the address, saying that the Jewish holiday of Shmini Atzeret had taken precedence.
After positive talks and an upbeat press conference with PA Finance Minister Shukri Bishara, Steinitz, himself a former finance minister, lamented that “we didn’t hear any note or thanks for the important steps we have taken on the economic front. Instead, Abbas just continues to attack the State of Israel.”
Steinitz argued that the “main obstacles to peace are the refusal of Abbas and the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s existence as a Jewish state” and continued incitement against Israelis in Palestinian schools.
Among the Israeli delegation’s victories, Steinitz said, was Israel’s drive to temper Iran’s charm offensive toward the West.
“We are on the defensive,” he said. “There is a charm and smiles attack by Rouhani that is not just a danger for us, but for the whole world.” Yet he found that “people displayed a lot of understanding of our perspective,” he said, and asserted that the advocacy of the Israeli delegation “slightly ruined Rouhani’s celebrations here.”
Rouhani, a relative moderate, broke sharply with the approach of his hard-line predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by delivering a fairly tame speech that did not mention Israel at the United Nations General Assembly earlier in the week. He followed up the speech by giving an interview on CNN in which he appeared to condemn the Holocaust, though the English translation of his remarks were challenged by some in Tehran.
Steinitz credited Israel with first describing Rouhani’s approach dismissively as a “charm offensive”, a term that has stuck in the American media. He says that he has repeatedly warned statesman that Rouhani intends to “smile all the way to the bomb.”
“I think we have succeeded in both the media and among the delegations to insert a tone of doubt,” Steinitz said. “Instead of his exclamation points, we raised question marks instead.”
Steinitz said he also had a “very good” meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in which he called on the veteran diplomat to condemn anti-Israel incitement – which Ban did the very next day.
“I’ve had a number of good meetings with dozens of heads of state and foreign ministers, and most were very friendly,” Steinitz said, saying that he had not felt a lot of hostility against Israel at the UN headquarters.