NEW YORK — Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan on Monday accused Security Council members of “ignoring” recent decisions by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan to normalize relations with the Jewish state, asserting that the international community was missing opportunities to promote peace in the region.
“While the council’s talking points have not changed for decades, the Middle East has,” Erdan said during his first address before the top UN body in a session that was held virtually due to the pandemic.
Israel signed agreements with the UAE and Bahrain at the White House last month, and on Friday, Sudan announced that it had agreed to commence the process of normalization with Israel, after the US dropped Khartoum from its blacklist of state terror sponsors.
Erdan urged his colleagues to embrace the latest agreements. “I am committed to proving wrong all those who say that the Security Council is a lost cause. However, ignoring the most pressing issues in the Middle East, and expressing bias when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, makes it hard to do,” he said.
However, many members who addressed the Security Council meeting on the Middle East did in fact raise the recent normalization deals and described them as a positive step, including the representatives from Germany, the United Kingdom, France, the Dominican Republic, Nigeria, and Estonia.
“I join the secretary-general in expressing hope that this agreement [with Sudan] will further cooperation, enhance economic and trade relations, and bring about new opportunities to advance peace and economic prosperity in the wider Horn of Africa and Middle East regions,” said UN Special Envoy Nikolay Mladenov.
Some other states did reference the US-brokered agreements, but argued that their impact on the region would be negligible or even negative.
South Africa’s UN envoy Jerry Matjila claimed they have done “nothing to help Palestinians on the ground.”
US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft encouraged the Palestinians and the international community to “embrace the opportunity provided by the Abraham Accords signed at the White House on September 15.
“The US has demonstrated for the first time in over 25 years that a different approach can yield different results,” Kraft said, dismissing the notion that peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors could only be achieved after the conflict with the Palestinians is settled.
She called on Palestinians to engage with the American peace plan. “Simply rejecting the vision out of hand does nothing to help the Palestinian people or advance the cause of peace,” she said.
Kraft added that while some champion the 2002 Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for talks, the 18-year-old proposal — while historic at the time — “just doesn’t provide the kind of detail we need to reach peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”
Speaking ahead of Erdan, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki did not address the normalization agreements directly, but appeared to refer to them as a reward for Israeli policies in the West Bank.
“We could have contributed to transforming this political conflict into a religious one, fueling it so we are not the only ones to feel its flames. We did not,” al-Maliki said. “If we are punished while making such a choice, while on the other hand Israel is rewarded, what is being encouraged: peace or violence?”
Al-Maliki’s speech was interrupted by none other than Erdan, whose office said it experienced technical difficulties logging on to the conference call system. Erdan’s staff could be heard for 15 seconds loudly preparing for the envoy’s subsequent address, forcing the Palestinian envoy to stop speaking until his Israeli colleague muted his microphone. At the end of Sunday’s session, the presiding Russian representative apologized to Erdan for the technical difficulties, which prevented the Israeli envoy from appearing on screen during his speech, indicating that his mission had not been responsible for the issue.
Erdan used his address to go after the Palestinians and al-Maliki for their aggressive opposition to the normalization agreements voiced in recent weeks.
“Instead of viewing the Accords as a new opportunity to kick-start negotiations, the Palestinians have attacked the Emirates, Bahrainis and Sudanese, calling their decision to have relations with Israel a ‘betrayal’ and a ‘stab in the back,'” Erdan said.
“Now everyone can see that the Palestinians incite against any country that seeks peace in the region, even its fellow Arab League members. The fact that the Palestinians attack those who make peace with Israel demonstrates that, for years, the council has been applying pressure to the wrong side,” he claimed.
He went on to attack Ramallah for its monthly stipends to Palestinian security prisoners, including those with Israeli blood on their hands. Erdan also chided the PA for its failure to hold presidential elections since 2006. “Israel, as you know, has held more elections in a year than the PA has held in the last 15,” he said, alluding to the political crisis plaguing Israel since last year.
Seemingly amused by Erdan’s highlighting of the three elections held in under a year, the UK’s envoy, John Allen, said he did not share the view that sending Israelis to the polls every few months would be good for their democracy, but did call on Ramallah to hold elections in the near future.
After reconciliation talks in Istanbul last month, the Fatah and Hamas movements said they had agreed to hold general Palestinian elections within the next six months, though no date has been set.
Nearly every speaker at the UN Security Council meeting expressed dismay over Israel’s advancement earlier this month of plans for over 5,000 settlement homes in the West Bank.
While many of the countries that raised the issue did so as part of a broader list of criticisms of the Israeli government, German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen made a point of not singling out Israel for criticism. He expressed his disappointment at Maliki for not addressing recent rocket fire from the Gaza Strip while also admonishing Erdan for ignoring the announcements of major settlement expansion in his own speech.
Many of the representatives lauded the idea of an international peace conference proposed last month by PA President Mahmoud Abbas in order to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Erdan, however, was not impressed, warning representatives not to “be fooled by this; it is only another distraction. Abbas knows a conference will not bring peace. The only way to achieve real peace is through direct, bilateral negotiations.”