|A diplomat speaks – former Israeli representative to the UN shares his insights|
Jewish Times Asia sat down recently with former Israeli diplomat Ambassador Ron Prosor, who served in many positions, including as Israel’s 16th Permanent Representa- tive to the United Nations (UN) from 2011 to 2015. He made a short visit to Hong Kong in March to be the guest speaker at the UIA Dinner event.
Jewish Times Asia invited him to share some insights and personal perspectives about his experiences at the UN, and also to discuss Israel’s current rela- tions with various countries and regions around the world.
A delicate diplomatic dance
Ambassador Proser noted that during his tenure at the UN, there were some extraordinarily sensitive issues relating to Israel and how the UN operated, par- ticularly regarding how member states voted on UN resolutions.
With his customary wit and humour, Ambassador Prosor shared that working at the UN was sometimes like a soap opera or a drama, with good guys, bad guys and even some open trap doors, especially when it came to UN member states’ votes on particular topics and issues. For a small country such as Israel, this required extreme delicacy in attempting to persuade member states to vote fairly in some very heated debates. Even today, Is- rael is still definitely a hot potato at the UN.
At the UN, Ambassador Prosor held a series of notable positions, including Vice Presi- dent of the General Assembly and Chair of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. He called for the first-ever General Assembly session on anti-Sem- itism, and oversaw the adoption of two landmark resolutions on entrepreneurship and agriculture that passed with an overwhelm- ing majority.
Counting the votes
The UN is currently made up of 193 member states, with various organisational umbrella departments such as the General Assembly, the Security Coun- cil, the International Court of Justice, and departments deal- ing with such issues as human rights, environmental protec- tion, etc.
There are only four main alignments: 87 UN democracy countries, 22 Arab states, 56 OIC Islamic countries and 122 members of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM). The NAM was established by India, In- donesia and Yugoslavia in the 1960s. Most of these NAM cur- rent members represent country interests from all around the world, including Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and Ocea- nia.
“The maths for voting on is- sues are quite clearly weighted more heavily in favour of pleas- ing the Arab/Islamic interests rather than Israel,” said Ambas- sador Proser.
As he emphasised, Israel does have huge support among other UN country ambassadors, however many of them are ab- sent when votes are cast. “Sup- port for Israel is very strong outwardly at the UN, but the mechanism to vote for or against Israel in strategic resolutions be- comes problematic. Sometimes we work best with smaller na- tions such as Palau, because the world does not know how to gain their support,” he recalled. “It is clear that Israel’s strongest friends and allies do occasion- ally abstain from voting, or vote against us for strategic reasons, not necessarily because they are against us.”
Given the complexities of international diplomacy and the UN’s operations, it is not sur- prising that Ambassador Proser commented: “The United Na- tions was founded in 1945 with only 51 member states, and since then it has perhaps become less relevant in some areas in the modern world and may need some reform.”
Jewish Times Asia also asked Ambassador Proser for his thoughts on other diplomatic relationships that are currently developing for Israel globally.
“We see that Israel is work- ing on building its diplomatic channels with several Arab Gulf countries, including the UAE, Qatar, Oman, and most im- portantly Saudi Arabia, which are all majority Sunni Muslim countries. They all see the threat of Iran, a Shia Muslim nation, and its idealogy. The rope is tightening, under the radar,” he said.
He added that there could also be a further opportunity with Pakistan, which also has a majority Sunni Muslim popula- tion. Ambassador Prosor was part of a team in Israel’s foreign ministry in September 2005 that created a dialogue forum, with the foreign ministers of Is- rael and Pakistan meeting in the Turkish city of Istanbul.
Another important relation- ship in the region is with China. “China is all about energy, ener- gy and more energy.” Ambassa- dor Proser commented that China needs to feed its huge popu- lation, build its infrastructure and make its economy stronger. Israel has state-of-the-art tech- nology in agriculture and many other sectors, and China wants and needs to learn from Israel’s expertise.
Defending Israel’s position
Ambassador Proser was also drawn into the spotlight when he served as Israel’s Ambassador to the UK from 2007 to 2011. With his ongoing dialogues, he earned plaudits for his articulate and forthright defence of Israel’s position, published numerous articles in the British press, and addressed the widest possible range of audiences throughout the country. He is a keen soccer fan – he followed Manchester United when he was living in the UK and made sure not to miss any of the team’s games.
A long-time admirer of President Shimon Peres, whom he can imitate with uncanny ac- curacy, Ambassador Prosor has also taken on the Peres mantle of verbal dexterity, frequently coining phrases that sum up Is- rael’s situation, and that crop up repeatedly in his speeches. “The Jews’ greatest contribution to history is dissatisfaction!” he said. “We’re a nation born to be discontented. Whatever exists we believe can be changed for the better,” he said.
The UN’s significant role
Perhaps the ambassador’s fondest and most poignant memory of his role as a repre- sentative of Israel comes from his days at the UN. “When I arrived at the UN building ev- ery morning, I would look at all the flags of the many countries. Many of them were Islamic flags, with the crescent and star. But only one Jewish symbol, the Star of David, was flutter- ing there, and that made me so proud.”
In conclusion, Ambassador Proser noted that with all its strength, and, some may argue, its weaknesses, the UN estab- lished the State of Israel on 29 November 1947. The United Nations General Assembly Res- olution 181 called for the parti- tion of the British-ruled Pales- tine Mandate into a Jewish state and an Arab state. It was ap- proved with 33 votes in favour, 13 against, 10 abstentions and one absent. The UN established modern-day Israel, so its role is extraordinarily significant to the Jewish people of the world.
Ambassador Ron Prosor is the Abba Eban Chair of Interna- tional Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC).
In his more than two decades with Israel’s Ministry of For- eign Affairs, Mr Prosor carved out an international reputation as one of Israel’s most distinguished diplomats. His appointments included:
2011-2015 Israel’s 16th Permanent Representative to the United Nations
2007-2011 Ambassador to the United Kingdom
2004-2007 Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1998-2002 Minister-Counselor, Political Affairs, Israeli Embassy, Washington, D.C.
As an officer in the Artillery Division of the IDF, Mr Prosor at- tained the rank of Major. He holds a Master’s degree in Political Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
(Issue Apr 2019)