MONTREAL — Israel can’t pursue peace with the Palestinians on the one hand, while on the other continue to expand its settlement activities, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Yehuda Lancry, left, said.
But by the same token, he added in an appearance at Bialik High School, progress toward peace “in the spirit of” the 1993 Oslo accords won’t happen until the Palestinian Authority deals with Hamas’ rule over the Gaza Strip and its continued rejection of Israel.
“Israel has to give clear-cut messages to the other side,” Lancry told Jeff Itcush’s political science class at Bialik and students visiting from École Maïmonide.
However, he said, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas also has to pursue a united position among Palestinians before the “spirit” that raised so much hope 15 years ago has a chance to prevail.
Lancry was Israel’s ambassador to France from 1992 to 1995, sat in the Knesset from 1996 to 1999 and presided over Israel’s delegation at the United Nations from 2000 to 2002. He blamed the “unilateral” policies of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in disengaging from Gaza in 2005 for creating the situation that let Hamas take over virtually without opposition.
“I’m not against the result [Israel ridding itself of Gaza], but the modality,” Lancry said. Israel’s unilateral action, he added, ran “contrary to the spirit of dialogue” that Oslo was supposed to engender, and it opened the door to Hamas.
Regrettably, he noted, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had a similar plan to implement unilateral policies until the disastrous Second Lebanon War in 2006.
After that, “it was back to the spirit of Oslo,” Lancry said.
With Israeli elections in the offing in the wake of Olmert’s preparing to step down, Lancry suggested that new opportunities could emerge if Israel compromises and Palestinians unite.
Furthermore, he said, while Israel continues to stand “quite alone” in a number of ways at the UN, there has also been some incremental progress.
The United States continues to play a pivotal role by being able to veto sanctions against Israel on the Security Council. “It doesn’t hesitate,” he said.
But usually, the onslaught against Israel at the UN continues apace, Lancry said, with “some resolutions that that are equivalent to suicide” for the Jewish state.
The more positive news, he said, is that since 2004, Israel has enjoyed the right to permanently renew its membership in the UN’s Western European and Other Group (WEOG), which means that members of the Israeli delegation can be elected to UN bodies.
For example, Daniel Gillerman, who was the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations until recently, was elected vice-president of the 60th General Assembly in 2005, the first Israeli to do so since Abba Eban in 1952. Lancry said WEOG membership is an improvement in status, since Israel tried for many years to become a member of a regional group, especially the European one, which carries with it the potential to wield greater influence at the UN.
In reply to a question, Lancry said that despite its numerous failings, the UN remains, for good or bad, the only international body with a mandate to serve as a forum for the world, and for that reason, it is important and necessary.
In general, Lancry, who now heads Israel’s Channel 2, sounded relatively optimistic about prospects for an eventual peace with the Palestinians. It should be remembered, he told the students, that Israel is celebrating its 60th birthday, has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, has 10 times the population it had in 1948, has absorbed generations of immigrants, and has developed a high-tech industry that is the envy of the world.
Israel does face social problems such as gaps in education between the rich and poor and other issues, but the biggest challenge remains dealing with the “mass of enmity before us.”
Lancry’s visited Montreal as representative of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a human rights organization and network of Jewish schools based in France.