In September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a bold forecast. “Israel has a bright future at the UN,” he declared at the General Assembly. “Everything will change” in the UN’s knee-jerk hostility towards Israel, predicted Netanyahu, because world governments realize that Israel is a key partner. And he urged diplomats to expedite this change for the sake of the international order itself. “If the UN spends so much time condemning the only liberal democracy in the Middle East,” he argued, “it has far less time to address… all the other serious problems that plague the planet,” specifically citing the crisis in Syria.
It is far too early to declare that Netanyahu is right—but major world players are clearly concerned that he might soon be vindicated. The “war against Israel at the UN” is not over, but there is anxiety that it might be abating. The Israeli premier is not the only one to notice that the world’s manifold crises might cause pressure against Israel to subside. Others understand the implications of the shifting geopolitical plates—and could step up their pressure before it is too late.
Only last month, expressing frustration at the absence of progress towards a two-state solution, outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon complained that “making matters worse is a dangerous vacuum within the international community as crises elsewhere claim the attention of world leaders.”
His special envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, evidently shares this concern, warning UN ambassadors in October that although the question of Palestine had been overshadowed by other crises, they must not set it aside.
This trepidation is also felt outside the hallways of the UN. Presenting her credentials as France’s new envoy to Israel, Ambassador Helene Le Gal explained that the French Peace Initiative—to which Israel objects—is “nothing new” but an attempt “to keep the subject on the agenda and not letting it [fall] down because there are other crises in the world.”
Iran’s President Rouhani urged his cabinet not to “let the Zionists’ big crimes be forgotten” in light of other Middle East conflicts, which he accused Israel of fomenting to distract the world.
Indeed, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has explicitly expressed fears that “the instability of the whole region is having an effect on interest in the Palestinian issue,” urging the world not to forget it—and to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict first. The Palestinian UN ambassador recently accused the UN of “standing silent” while settlement construction rose, and pointed to the on-going funding crisis facing UNRWA, the UN’s dedicated refugee agency for Palestinians. With less than half of the funds the world has pledged for the Gaza Strip after the 2014 war disbursed, the Palestinians are clearly right to fear that the implosion of the Middle East is claiming the attention of world governments.
If major actors suspect that Palestinian statehood might fall off the agenda, then they are likely to make a concerted push to prevent this happening. This will involve diplomatic efforts—like France’s planned international peace summit, which is intended to rally international cooperation on an issue that enjoys broad global consensus, in contrast to other crises aggravated by debilitating diplomatic paralysis. It could also include a paroxysm of violence on the part of the Palestinians. The war against Israel at the UN is not “over,” as Netanyahu jubilantly declared: if world leaders indeed share this assessment, that war is likely to witness a deliberate new phase before it might ever fizzle away.