Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service ·
12 May 1999
SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS ISRAEL-UNITED NATIONS PARTNERSHIP ONLY BEGINNING
TO SHOW HOW MUCH IT CAN DO: FOR ISRAELIS, MIDDLE EAST AND WORLD
Following is the text of remarks made last night at Headquarters by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, at a dinner held to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Israel's membership in the United Nations:
It is an honour and a pleasure to join you tonight for this celebration. To all the people of Israel, and to Jewish people around the world for whom this is also an anniversary to remember, I say: "congratulations" from your friends in the international community.
Every United Nations Member State has a story to tell, a moving chronicle of the road to independence and statehood. Israel's tale is especially poignant. Its yearning was ancient; its agony was profound; and its success was an inspiration to all peoples.
The longing of the Jewish people to find a safe haven among the family of nations runs deep. David Ben Gurion once spoke of "the human dust" that had gathered from all corners of the earth and been converted into a sovereign State that occupied an "honourable place in the family of nations".
No United Nations Secretary-General can forget that the Organization was born out of the fight against fascism and intolerance. Our Charter was drafted as the world was learning the full horror of the Holocaust. When Israel joined the United Nations 50 years ago today, it was a moment of redemption and, not least, a reminder of the United Nations' cardinal mission of dignity, human rights and peace.
Since then the history of Israel and the history of the United Nations have been closely entwined, as reflected in numerous resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council. At times, it pains me to say, United Nations decisions sparked intense anger both inside and outside Israel. At one point even you, Ambassador Eban, wrote that "The world seemed to belong to our foes."
These are the well-known signposts of the United Nations-Israel relationship. But there is another Israel at the United Nations, an Israel little known to the general public or even to many delegates.
It is the Israel that protects the global environment by lending others its expertise in solar energy and desert ecology. It is the Israel that fights drug trafficking by training law enforcement officials; the Israel that spreads democracy by participating in election-monitoring operations; the Israel that brings emergency aid to people in need, including, as we speak, in Kosovo.
This Israel could do much more for the United Nations were it not for a significant obstacle: its status as the only Member State that is not a member of a regional group, which is the basis for participation in many United Nations bodies and activities.
I said last year in Israel that this anomaly should be rectified, and I hope it will be soon. In any event, I shall keep encouraging all concerned to find a solution.
In less than a week, Israelis will go to the polls. Whatever the outcome, an urgent task remains priority number one: courageous decision-making for peace -- peace with justice for all, so that the aspirations of one side are not achieved at the expense of the rights of the other.
The peace process has languished for far too long. Fear has poisoned relations for far too long. Daily indignities have eaten away at families, and at society as a whole.
We can no longer be satisfied with saving the hard work for later, and with passing on to future generations our unmet aspirations for peace. The generation of today should know peace, and be able to bequeath to its sons and daughters, not the dream of peace, but peace itself.
Two weeks ago, I visited the New Synagogue of Berlin, which had been damaged on Kristallnacht, destroyed by bombing during the war and recently rebuilt after standing untouched for decades. While walking through the restoration, I could hear the voices of children playing in the Jewish school next door. As I listened to those sounds, my thoughts turned to the miracle of rebirth and renewal.
Israel's admission to the United Nations was one such example. The United Nations today is renewing itself to meet the challenges of a new century.
We have been together for 50 years, but in many respects this fruitful partnership is only beginning to show how much it can do: for Israelis, for the Middle East, for the common good around the world.
I look forward to working even more closely with all of you as we move ahead. Thank you, congratulations on this milestone, and l'chaim!
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For information media - not an official record