Each round of Israeli disengagement, withdrawal, retreat (or whatever one wishes to call it) wins the temporary approval of the wide world, as symbolized by the United Nations General Assembly.
After the Oslo accords were signed in September 1993, the General Assembly voted 155 to 3, with 1 abstention and 19 states not voting, to express "its full support for the achievements of the peace process thus far." After the Barak government retreated from Lebanon in May 2000, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised Israel for this "important development in the Israeli-UN relationship."
Within months, however, those sweet notes soured, forgotten except by archivists, replaced by the standard anti-Zionist canards, embellishments, and double standards.
True to form, after the August-September 2005 pullout from Gaza, Ariel Sharon was the toast of the United Nations. No Israeli prime minister had ever before had world leaders vying to meet with him or enjoyed such opportunities to promote himself and his country. Here's the New York Times in mid-October discussing Israel as the new U.N. favorite:
Israel recently proposed a United Nations resolution, it submitted its candidacy for a two-year seat on the Security Council, and its prime minister has been warmly received speaking to the General Assembly.
For any of the 190 other nations in the world organization, those would be routine events. But in Israel's case, the resolution is the first the country has ever proposed, and the request for a Security Council seat presumes an end to the disdain with which the country has historically been treated at the United Nations. The address by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on Sept. 15, was his first at the United Nations. It was delivered to a hall that has rung with denunciations of his country, where a tide of condemnatory resolutions has passed by lopsided votes and which Arab delegates regularly vacated whenever an Israeli rose to speak.
"These are steps that could not have happened even two years ago," said Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador, referring to the new efforts to gain acceptance. "It would have been unthinkable, suicidal, for us even to try them."
Thus did Sharon's move to the far left of the Israeli political spectrum nearly erase decades of personal vilification. Hob-nobbing with Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum, and Jacques Chirac paved the way for a United Nations triumph.
This time, surely, the good will might last, no? In a mid-September interview, I predicted it would not:
There is a long history of Israeli prime ministers being rewarded for giving things away. … He will look to be rewarded, and someone who had been unpopular in the UN will be feted. It will be a high point of his career. The world will say it is a good step forward, and in a month or two or three the world will say, "What is next?" This only buys a little time of feting. It's a sucker's game. You can't win. … I can predict with confidence that if he doesn't take further steps to withdraw Israelis from the West Bank, the good mood will be over.
And – surprise! – right on schedule, the good mood is indeed over. On Dec. 2, the General Assembly voted on six resolutions concerning Israel and its neighbors, and in each of the six it reverted to form, lambasting, bashing, and accusing Israel at every turn. For example, by a vote of 156 in favor to 6 against (those being Australia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, United States), with 9 abstentions (Cameroon, Canada, Costa Rica, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu), the General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Israeli withdrawal from the territories it won in 1967. By 153 to 7, it condemned Israeli jurisdiction and administration in Jerusalem. And so forth, through the various issues.
The Palestinian Authority's information service rightly heralded the votes as "Landslide Support to the Palestinian Question in the UN General Assembly." From its point of view, all is well and back to normal.
Since 1992, Israel's hapless leaders have followed a policy of appeasement in the hopes that "timely concessions to disgruntled nations whose grievances had some legitimacy [would succeed in] … defusing difficulties and promoting peace and goodwill."
But, in a perpetually relevant comment dating to the dark days of 1940, Winston Churchill warned that "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last." The U.N. crocodile has shown it is satiated but briefly by Israel, returning after each "painful concession" with an even more voracious appetite. Will Israelis ever again understand that wars are won through victory, not retreat?