Israeli, Palestinian envoys trade jabs at UN as official warns of ‘collision course’

Israel’s Erdan blasts ICJ probe as ‘war of multilateral terror,’ while Riyad Mansour says retaliatory measures by Jerusalem ‘strike at heart’ of world order

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: A UN Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters in New York, January 12, 2023. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Illustrative: A UN Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters in New York, January 12, 2023. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NEW YORK — The Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors to the United Nations traded jabs and the UN’s envoy to the region warned against an escalation, as tensions stemming from Palestinian diplomatic efforts against Israel and the conflict on the ground spilled into the Security Council on Wednesday.

The high-level body held the routine session on the Israel-Palestinian conflict at UN headquarters in New York amid ongoing clashes in the West Bank, squabbles over Jerusalem holy sites and a tit-for-tat dispute centered on the Palestinian push for an International Court of Justice investigation into Israel.

Israel’s envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan, decried the recent General Assembly vote to have the ICJ weigh in on the conflict, calling it part of the Palestinian “jihad war of multilateral terror.”

The General Assembly passed a resolution late last month calling for the investigation by the Hague-based ICJ. Israel enacted a series of retaliatory measures against the Palestinians in response. The Palestinian UN mission then issued a letter signed by over 90 countries condemning Israel’s punitive steps.

“Terror comes in many forms. At its core terrorism is a means by which to scare people into capitulating to demands,” Erdan said. “One of the weapons they use in this jihad war is the manipulation and abuse of international bodies. They weaponize these bodies in order to force Israel into surrendering to 100% of their demands.”

He said the Palestinians exploit an automatic anti-Israel majority at the UN to push unilateral measures while avoiding negotiations.

The ICJ probe “was a clear unilateral step initiated by the Palestinians with the sole purpose of destroying Israel as a Jewish state,” he said. “Israel’s guilt has been predetermined.”

“Destroying the Jewish State has always been the Palestinians’ only goal,” he added.

Erdan accused the UN of bias, noting the General Assembly condemned Israel more than all other countries combined last year.

“Save your false cries of victimhood,” he said to the Palestinian envoy, Riyad Mansour, who had left the room. “This charade is a performance of lies.”

He also said the UN misrepresented statistics about the conflict by inflating Palestinian casualties and leaving out context, including whether those involved were members of terror groups, as well as under-reporting Israeli deaths and injuries. A UN spokesperson disputed this later Wednesday.

In his remarks, Mansour said Israel’s retaliatory measures over the ICJ probe “strike at the heart of multilateralism and the heart of the international law-based order.”

“Israel still believes there is a path to peace by crushing the Palestinians. If there was one to be found they would have found it by now,” Mansour said. “Peace will not come by negation of our existence, it will come from the recognition of our plight.”

He said the Security Counsel and international community needed to step in to secure peace between the sides.

“There is a choice to be made and it cannot be delayed any further. Inaction is, was, and will always be the wrong choice,” Mansour said.

He also attacked the new Israeli government for its plans to expand settlements, disallow Palestinian flags in public and for “illegal unilateral measures in Jerusalem aimed to undermine the historic status quo.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the flashpoint Temple Mount in Jerusalem earlier this month, prompting a fiery emergency Security Counsel session. Israel stressed that the visit did not violate the status quo at the site, which allows Jews to visit under restricted conditions, but not pray.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site to Jews as the site of the ancient temples and the third-holiest for Muslims as the home of the Al Aqsa Mosque. Israel condemned the General Assembly resolution last month for only referring to the site by its Arabic name, Haram al-Sharif.

The UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Tor Wennesland, on Wednesday warned the Security Counsel about escalating tensions during his periodic assessment of the conflict.

“Israelis and Palestinians remain on a collision course amid escalating political and inflammatory rhetoric as well as heightened violence in the West bank, both with potentially grave consequences,” he said.

He condemned violence from both sides, stressed the importance of the status quo at holy sites and congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on taking office since his last assessment.

Wennesland also cautioned against Israel withholding funding to the Palestinian Authority in response to its push for a world court investigation. Israel has redirected $39 million in PA tax revenue to victims of Palestinian terrorism.

“I am seriously concerned about the impact of such measures on the PA’s financial situation,” Wennesland said.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield voiced opposition during the session to “unilateral actions that endanger the stability and the viability of a two-state solution.”

“This includes actions to the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif Temple Mount; this includes settlement building and the legalization of outposts; and this includes annexation, acts of terrorism, and incitement,” she said.

Thomas-Greenfield also called for the return of two Israelis and the remains of two soldiers being held in Gaza. The issue came to the fore this week when the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group released a video of Avera Mengistu, a civilian with mental health issues who entered the Strip on his own eight years ago and has been held captive since.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahr, called Wednesday on the UN and other international aid groups to assist in the release of the captives.

The Foreign Ministry also sent a letter to prominent leaders of international bodies, asking them to “urgently” act for the release of Israeli civilians and the remains of IDF soldiers held captive by Hamas.

The letter was sent to Pope Francis, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Red Cross President Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other senior UN officials.

The UN Human Rights Council has stayed mum on the situation since Hamas released the video. The UNHRC and its special rapporteur tasked with investigating the conflict, Francesca Albanese, did not respond to The Times of Israel’s requests for comment on the incident. The special rapporteur, who has a history of antisemitism, has publicly commented on Israeli evictions since the Hamas video was released.

International law forbids taking civilians captive and bars using any prisoners for propaganda purposes.

Also Wednesday, Israeli officials slammed the UN special coordinator for Lebanon after she thanked the Hezbollah terror group “for a tour d’horizon on issues of priority for Lebanon.”

Joanna Wronecka’s statement came a month after a UN peacekeeper was shot to death while driving in a UN vehicle in a Hezbollah-controlled area of South Lebanon. The terror group handed over a suspect in the killing to Lebanese investigators, but it is not clear whether the individual is a Hezbollah member.

Joshua Zarka, deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry, mocked Wronecka’s statement and blamed Hezbollah for the killing.

“Is this real? An official Senior UN Representative thanks the terrorist organization responsible for the murder of a UN peacekeeper,” he said.

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