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At UN, Rivlin makes plea to PA’s Abbas: ‘It’s our role to end conflict’

President meets with UN chief Guterres, 21 ambassadors, urges them to oppose investigations and resolutions against Israel, which he says make peace more difficult to achieve

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

President Reuven Rivlin (middle seated) with a group of 21 UN ambassadors in New York on June 29, 2021. (Shahar Azran)
President Reuven Rivlin (middle seated) with a group of 21 UN ambassadors in New York on June 29, 2021. (Shahar Azran)

NEW YORK —  Speaking before a group of foreign ambassadors to the United Nations on one of his final days in office, President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday issued a plea to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to “forget about the past” and work together with Israel to achieve peace.

“We are not doomed to live to together, we are destined to live together. It’s our role to end conflict,” Rivlin said in a speech at the tail-end of his farewell tour in the United States. “Let’s forget about the past. Let’s build confidence. There are opportunities to achieve a bright future for our peoples.”

Referring to Abbas as “my cousin,” Rivlin sought to explain the thousands-year-old connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and the age-old Jewish desire to return to the Holy Land, while recognizing that “there [were] people living there.”

“We returned to the homeland because everyone told us to,” Rivlin said, referring to the nations where Jews lived before the establishment of the State of Israel.  “Israel will exist forever as a Jewish state, as long as it will continue to be a democratic one.”

Twenty-one foreign ambassadors to the UN joined Rivlin and Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan at the Safra Center in New York for a luncheon honoring the president. The nations represented were the US, Russia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, Austria, Albania, Hungary, Malta, Greece, Cyprus, Morocco, Bahrain, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Bhutan, Australia and Bulgaria.

The Chinese mission, whose ambassador was heavily critical of Israel during last month’s Gaza war, had initially accepted the invitation but pulled out before Tuesday’s event.

Prior to the lunch, Rivlin met with Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the UN and spoke out against resolutions and commissions of inquiry against Israel at the international body.

President Reuven Rivlin meets with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the UN on June 29, 2021. (Haim Zach)

Last month, the UN Human Rights Council voted to create an open-ended international investigation into Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. In March, the same body passed a series of resolutions against the Jewish state, which Jerusalem said in response is “obsessive, biased and anti-Israel.”

“Our region in the Middle East needs to build trust between peoples. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will never be achieved through anti-Israel decisions or commissions of inquiry,” Rivlin said during his meeting with Guterres, according to a statement from his office. “The bias against Israel at UN institutions must stop.”

“We are interested in continuing to work with the UN in order to meet the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, with whom we have no conflict,” Rivlin said.

President Reuven Rivlin addresses a group of UN ambassadors in New York on June 29, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

“However, any arrangement must include the return of our captive soldiers and civilians who are held by the Hamas terrorist organization,” the president added, referring to fallen troops Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul and civilians Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.

Rivlin was joined in the meeting at the UN by Goldin’s mother Leah, who urged Guterres to use his position to ensure the return of her son’s body for burial.

On Monday, two Western diplomats told The Times of Israel that the Biden administration opposes Israel’s desire to condition post-war reconstruction projects in Gaza on the return of the bodies of the fallen IDF soldiers held by Hamas.

(From L-R) UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Leah Goldin, Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan and President Reuven Rivlin at the UN on June 29, 2021. (Haim Zach)

The US is concerned that a breakdown of talks in Cairo to achieve a long-term ceasefire in Gaza will lead to renewed violence — something the Biden administration wants to avoid, in order to focus on other foreign policy issues, the diplomat said.

Goldin also met with senior US officials while accompanying Rivlin on his trip and told Channel 12 Tuesday that she urged them to seize the “window of opportunity,” as the sides enter post-war negotiations, to demand that Hamas abide by UN Security Council Resolution 2474, mandating the return of missing persons following armed conflict.

At the luncheon with foreign ambassadors, Rivlin asked Goldin to stand before the diplomats, urging those present to “join us in the diplomatic efforts to bring [our boys] home. Help us put an end to this ongoing nightmare.”

In his respective address, Erdan referred to the UN as “somewhat of a puzzle.”

“On the one hand, the institution is comprised of many countries that we have very close bilateral relations with, the countries that you represent,” he said. “On the other hand, it is undeniable that there is a strong bias against Israel at the UN, and that antisemitism has infected too many UN bodies.”

Erdan lamented that many anti-Israel resolutions at the UN pass with the help of countries “that choose to ignore our strong bilateral relations.”

Both Rivlin and Erdan raised Israeli concerns over Iran’s effort to obtain a nuclear weapon, while also sharing their pride in their countries’ inking of normalization deals with five Arab countries in the last year alone.

Given the opportunity to address the gathering, Morocco’s Ambassador to the UN Omar Hilale said he was proud of his country’s decision to normalize ties with Israel last December.

“There is an opportunity to move forward, to promote dialogue, to maintain security. We have no alternative but peace,” he said.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said she has been “proud to stand up for Israel, as of many of us here today have, in the face of one-sided actions [against the Jewish state].”

She noted the presence of envoys from Arab countries and expressed hope that expanding the Abraham Accords will “bring progress toward a negotiated agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Rivlin was in the US as part of a farewell tour, which saw him meet US President Joe Biden and US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday. He ends his seven-year term next week, to be replaced by Isaac Herzog.

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