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Asst. Sec. of State At CFR: Despite Public Spat With Israel, Support At U.N. Remains Essential

The Council on Foreign Relations welcomed Bathsheba Crocker, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Thursday to "discuss the complex global challenges facing the United Nations, U.S. policies regarding the UN, and the arguments for investment in international organizations." The topic of her speech was "Addressing the United Nations at Seventy," and following that she took audience questions.

Here (timestamp 50:00) she takes a question about the U.S. and Israel from Ambassador Thomas Pickering (retired U.S. ambassador to the U.N. 1989-1992, also served as ambassador to Israel, India, Russia, Jordan, and others).

STUART HOLLIDAY, HOST: You know a few things about foreign affairs in the United Nations, I think.

AMBASSADOR TOM PICKERING: I wanted to first congratulate you on your role and what you've done, and on the talk you gave us, which covers a good bit of the good and the bad, which is always a taxing problem, having been in New York for some time, and also in Tel Aviv and in Amman.

I found one area of your speech a little grating. That is the unalloyed, uncritical, unstinting support for Israel on everything. And my concern is how much is the present now nine-year-old government responsible for some of that. I recognize that this is an issue on which there are obviously two clear and different sides. And one cannot be unalloyed.

But how much is the present government responsible for that? And even more, how much are we working with the present government in the direction of making them, put it this way, less responsible for this particular approach?

CROCKER: So, you know, I think it's a very--

PIKERING: And I don't really expect you to go into detail in answering it.

STUART HOLLIDAY, HOST: Well, but it does -- it does seem that the more challenges we're having in the bilateral relationship, the more visible language of support within the U.N. context we are providing.

BATHSHEBA CROCKER, ASST. SEC. OF STATE, BUREAU OF INT'L AFFAIRS: So, I mean, I think it points out a little bit of an interesting dilemma in the sense that quite apart from whatever may be going on at any given time in the bilateral agenda, there is, as you will remember, this persistent bias across the U.N. system against Israel. And it's something that I saw very directly when I was up working inside that system, as well as seeing it from -- from this angle.

And so I think it's fair to say that -- that the approach that we take to Israel in the U.N. system is one that we should just take as a matter of course because it is not the right place for the system to be to be so, you know, politically biased against one country in the way that it is.

And I'll just give you one salient example from the ongoing session at the Human Rights Council where I was in Geneva just last week.

HOLLIDAY: With -- with Secretary [Kerry]?

CROCKER: With the secretary, right, who gave our remarks at the high level week.

We have seen the horrific story of the human rights abuses in North Korea that was brought to light by the Human Rights Council's commission of inquiry. Given that record, we are running the Human Rights Council and we, as part of it, are running this term one resolution on North Korea; six on Israel.

So it's this kind of political -- it's this imbalance that is indefensible, right? And if you have it, then it enables -- it enables us and others to sort of be critical of it in the way that we are, because it's just -- there's no way to say that that is sort of an OK situation, right? That you would have such an extreme focus on any one country at the expense of where you should be focused?

That having been said, it has never been the position of this administration or, I think, any administration that Israel or any other country is beyond scrutiny. So it's not that we should suggest that Israel should not come up in the ways that it does at the Human Rights Council, but just that if you -- if it is so blatantly biased in that way or unbalanced in that way, it can tend to decrease the legitimacy and credibility of those organizations.

And it's largely for that reason that we push back against it, right? Because we have an interest in making -- in continuing to have this function, in this case, the Human Rights Council, as an effective body. And it's harder to argue for that when you continue to just sort of have this situation hanging out there all the time in the way that it does.

Here (timestamp 1:03:00) a follow-up question.

HOLLIDAY: Last question here.

QUESTION: (inaudible) so my question is just, and going back a little bit to Ambassador Pickering's discussion about the...

HOLLIDAY: If you wouldn't mind just standing up, just so we can see you...

QUESTION: Sure. About the U.S. position on the panel towards Israel and Palestine. I mean, I agree with you that, you know, there is a bit of an anti-Israel bias at the Security Council and within the other U.N. bodies. But my question is: Haven't we done a lot more than trying to equilibrate the conversation back to other issues of importance and actually taken very strong positions on these things?

Like, when we cut funding at UNESCO, that was, you know, a little bit anti-Palestinian in a way. And I'm just in the private sector, so maybe I don't fully understand these things, but I'm just curious. I mean, if you were in the Palestinian position after 50 years, if negotiations for a two-state solution hadn't really worked, I mean, wouldn't you try to utilize multilateral bodies to get recognition and appreciate that your nation wants to finally become a state?

I'd love to hear more.

CROCKER: So, yeah, I mean, I can't obviously speak to the motivations of the Palestinians. And, you know, I wouldn't attempt to do that.

I think from our perspective, the question is whether these actions are helpful or hurtful to the ultimate cause of getting peace. And I think it is our -- it has been and remains our position that you cannot impose a solution on the parties, and that you cannot impose through unilateral or other action in the international system a set of requirements or an ultimate solution that is really going to work, in the absence of real and direct -- you know, direct negotiations and getting to a real peace agreement between the parties.

That has been a frustrating process over the decades. And the Palestinians are certainly seeming to react to that by taking certain actions across the U.N. system. We have a legislative requirement that prohibits us from funding certain types of U.N. organizations -- the specialized and technical agencies if -- if the Palestinians become a member state. And that is why we cut off our funding to UNESCO when the Palestinians became a member. It's a legislative requirement.

HOLLIDAY: So that's a legislative (inaudible).

CROCKER: And -- and that is not something that tends to be beneficial to the Palestinians, as you suggest. It's not beneficial to the Israelis. It's not beneficial to the organizations themselves because they lose a good chunk of their funding. But -- but it does represent the United States' firm belief that unless and until we get to the negotiated two-state solution that we would like to see, it is -- we would be wise not to try to circumvent that by taking these actions across the U.N. system.

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