Even though he left his official diplomatic position less than two years ago, Dr. Dore Gold has not stopped his work of explaining Israel’s position to world leaders, including those of some of the Arab states.
* This article originally appeared on April 12, 2018 in Hebrew in B’Sheva.
He is one of Israel’s most seasoned and experienced diplomats, but after years of official and unofficial activity as director-general of the Foreign Ministry, official advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold is satisfied today with the title of diplomatic expert and serving as president of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs. The quietness and low profile that typified his activities when serving in official positions also characterize him today. It’s hard to wring any statements out of him regarding grandiose personal ambitions.
Q: You served in a prestigious position in the Foreign Ministry. Doesn’t politics attract you? Is there a chance that we will see Dore Gold also having an influence from that side of things?
“I don’t know where I will be in the future. I can tell you that I’m very happy with what I have. The most important thing is Israel’s diplomatic systems. You can be at the heart of the Israeli establishment and not have any effect at all. When I go to the Senate as the author of a New York Times bestseller, appearing on television, when one of the most important hosts from the Fox network comes here and asks me for a personal tour of Jerusalem, this is something very difficult for those in senior positions to compete with. I know very well that every day I contribute something to the diplomatic efforts of the State of Israel.”
Challenging Israel’s Presence in the Golan Heights
When we ask Gold to define Israel’s main diplomatic problem today, his answer is surprising. At the international level, there is opposition to Israel’s presence in the Golan Heights, he asserts, and this is a tangible danger that is not discussed enough inside Israel.
“In my opinion, people are making a mistake when they think that the Golan Heights is on the sidelines and not on anyone’s agenda. When I was still the director-general of the Foreign Office [a position he held until two and a half years ago-N.K.], I noticed that the subject is gradually creeping back onto the international discussion platform,” Gold explains.
Q: We thought that you would consider other issues more problematic. Why specifically the Golan Heights?
“Talks are being held in Geneva on the future of Syria. They are discussing what will happen to the Druse and the Kurds, and complete sections of the previous Syrian state. In the statement of the UN special envoy, it says that the principles of any future agreement would include an obligation to return the Golan Heights to Syria. That speaks for itself.
“When I was director-general of the Foreign Ministry, I was very aware of this. Then, I was invited to Moscow and I brought an official delegation with me. On the other side sat Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, whom I knew from his time as Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations when I served as Israel’s ambassador. We reestablished our connection, but at the beginning of the conversation I said that we needed to be aware that whatever happens in Syria, I had to state that regardless of the results of any attempts at making peace in Syria, in any future constellation the Golan Heights would remain in Israel’s hands and under our sovereignty.”
Q: How did he respond?
“No one got too excited about these words. Two months ago, I was invited to a conference in Moscow, and the organizer was Vitaly Naumkin, who was appointed by Putin to represent Russia in the talks in Geneva about Syria. I spoke at a session about the Kurds. When you are dealing with the Kurds, you are dealing with the whole of Syria. During this speech, I included a statement that the Golan Heights would remain in Israel’s hands in any case.”
“At this point,” Gold continued, “Naumkin stood up excitedly and asked, ‘How can you speak like that in front of a respected audience, when the annexation of the Golan Heights is contrary to international law?’
“Because I have studied this issue for many years, I couldn’t sit there and say nothing. I replied to Naumkin and explained to him that Israel’s presence in the Golan Heights is not against international law, but is rather in accordance with it. This is because over the years, the jurists have differentiated between territory conquered in a defensive war and territory conquered in a war that was initiated.”
Q: Are you essentially saying that the war in the Golan Heights was a defensive war?
“Exactly. I started to explain that in 1967, Naumkin’s predecessors, the Soviets, tried to establish a narrative regarding the Six-Day War. They proposed a draft resolution to the Security Council according to which Israel was the aggressor during the Six-Day War. They lost, and so they proposed the exact same draft resolution before the General Assembly. Here, they also lost. It was as clear as day in 1967 that Israel had defended itself in a defensive war. I said this in 2018 in Moscow, and look how amazing – the argument ceased.”
Israel has the Legal Right to Jerusalem
Gold gave another surprising answer when he said that also with regard to the status of Jerusalem, there is an international legal opinion that Israel has the right to Jerusalem that goes beyond ancestral merit. “There’s a jurist by the name of Stephen Schwebel who wrote an article in the American Journal of International Law in 1970. He came to the conclusion that Israel has stronger legal claims to the territory that used to be part of mandatory Palestine, including all of Jerusalem, in comparison to other countries that demanded sovereignty over it. The basis of his conclusion was that the Jordanians in Jerusalem were the ones who launched the attack in 1948, and Israel came to Jerusalem to defend itself. Anyone who wants to discuss the sovereignty of a state over a specific territory needs to take the circumstances into account. By the way, Schwebel eventually became the president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, so he had sufficient legal authority.”
Gold also drew a direct line between concern for the future of the Golan Heights in international dialogue and the status of Jerusalem in international dialogue, even after U.S. recognition of the united city.
“The dispute over the Golan Heights continues, and we need to be armed with all of the necessary arguments in order to win this struggle and this battle. In the same way, we need to recognize the fact that our rivals are making an intense effort to wrest Jerusalem from our hands. It starts with hostile resolutions at the Security Council, continues with the denial of Jewish history in Jerusalem, and UNESCO is leading this effort.”
Gold has also given a unique presentation to international institutions on Israel’s right to Jerusalem, and he has written a book on the subject that has been translated into many languages, including Chinese. “It’s very important to actively promote our arguments in the spoken languages of the countries of the world,” he says.
“In the presentation, I discuss the hypothesis that the Jews arrived late to Jerusalem and what is written in the Bible is a kind of folktale, as our critics claim. Then the presentation shows in 3-D the seals of the kings of Judea. It’s a combination of special effects and history. People are left feeling amazed. Afterwards, a telegram from the British archive written in 1864 is displayed. In it, the British consul writes that there is a clear majority of Jews in Jerusalem.”
“But that’s not all. In the Cairo Genizah, they found a letter from the Jewish community in Jerusalem written in the seventh century in which it is clearly written that the Arabs allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem. The letter includes a request from the Jewish community in Jerusalem to the Jewish community in Cairo for aid. This is not a letter to New York in 1948. This is a letter from Jerusalem in the seventh century. There are many ways to show the Jewish nation’s almost constant connection with Jerusalem.”
Q: Can the same be said about the Golan Heights?
“There are many synagogues in the Golan Heights,” Gold smiles. “The Golan Heights has been under Israeli sovereignty for many more years than it was under Syrian rule between 1948 and 1967. Before that, it was a French colony under the Allies.”
Remaining Alert with Regard to Trump
Over many years, Gold has worked with various U.S. administrations on behalf of Netanyahu. For over a year, he has observed the new government from the side and he sees unending friendliness. However, he is not complacent. He believes that Israel’s political establishment should be very alert to any change in developments on the American side.
“We aren’t able to rest and lie on the beach. We have to be active all the time, so that the Jews in the United States understand the basis for Israel’s claims. We don’t really know what will happen in the future, and the current administration can, in certain circumstances, change its position toward Israel.”
Q: So it’s a good situation at the moment, but we can’t let it blind us.
“Many international sources observing from the outside claim that the U.S. government, led by Trump, wants to eventually loosen its hold on the Middle East in spite of its strong connection with us and Saudi Arabia. We have to be prepared for that. We don’t know who will be the dominant powers in the end. Ben-Gurion was very active in London, and he understood during World War II that the focus would move from London to Washington, so he transferred his activities over to there.”
Gold maintains that it is better to broaden the connection with the two main parties in the United States and that Israel should not place too much hope in either of them. “We don’t know what will happen in another ten years, which party will win. The Republicans are currently very friendly toward Israel. But in the first Bush administration, they were very tough toward Israel and we looked for a solution from the Democrats. We must not be in one camp at the expense of the other. We need to work with both large camps in the United States.”
However, Gold is not pessimistic about the Americans. “I believe in the American people and the continuation of the United States’ international leadership. At the same time, it’s not a bad thing if we are able to deal with a number of other centers of power with influence and the ability to persuade.”
Gold the diplomat has accompanied the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians for many years, through all of their various incarnations, and primarily during the freeze of the past few years. Here, he is also surprising: “If Israel could achieve diplomatic understandings that were for our benefit, we must not miss the opportunity,” he warns, referring to discussions of the possibility of a master plan created by the Trump administration for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Q: Some would not consider any diplomatic initiative as an opportunity right now.
“If there is an American diplomatic initiative, we have to consider it seriously and not think of every American initiative as a threat. Sometimes, golden opportunities are created, and it seems that here is an opportunity that won’t be repeated.”
Q: How should this plan be seen? What would you want to come from it?
“When you are in the government, you are often involved with immediate issues rather than long-term projects. After the Camp David and Taba talks failed, there were elements with a lot of money that took the outline of the plans that were discussed and tried to sell them, first of all to the Jews in America and afterwards to all of the citizens there. This was an arrangement that was very close to the Green Line, and in my opinion it was bad, and it could have been even worse if that had become the prevailing position in Washington.”
“I adopted an expression that I used with Prime Ministers Sharon and Netanyahu – ‘defensible borders.’ This expression, which was coined by Yigal Allon, was regularly used by the late Yitzhak Rabin. Its meaning is that you don’t present a map to the other side. You explain that the Jordan Valley, the territories around Ben-Gurion airport, and other strategic areas, including united Jerusalem, will always remain under Israeli rule.”
“I took this phrase and turned it into a monograph that I brought to Washington, accompanied by Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan. We presented the monograph to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives. We brought 50 copies, which we distributed to each member of the committee. Afterwards, I appeared on various TV programs and again I spoke about defensible borders. We marketed this and we ran surveys, and there is massive international support for this Israeli idea. It shows that you need a national position of consensus toward the State of Israel. Therefore, I introduced this expression everywhere I appeared, and it stuck.”
Historic Ties with Russia
Gold was the director-general of the Foreign Ministry during the present Netanyahu government until October 2016. He accompanied Prime Minister Netanyahu for many years, and he rejects current criticism of Netanyahu’s statements with regard to “the political renaissance” that Israel is experiencing.
“Netanyahu is absolutely right. Go area by area, and you’ll see it. The simplest way is to begin with America. During the Trump period, there are things that were never achieved before with the United States, such as the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem,” he explains.
Europe, in his words, is “a complicated story. But there’s also an understanding there that Israel is a key country for Europe’s security. The greatest threat to Europe is the wave of refugees. If ISIS succeeds in bringing down the regimes in the Arab world, there will be new waves. Therefore, if Israel cooperates with the Arab countries against ISIS, this won’t only benefit the Arab world, but also Europe. The Europeans understand this, and we are now in a transition period, but in my estimation European policy will change in the next few years. They understand that Israel is important and they don’t reject Israel’s standpoints.”
Q: And what about Russia? On the one hand, it seems as if we have strong ties with them, but the Russians also support Syria and they don’t hide their connections with Iran.
“With Russia, we are in a very complicated but very unusual situation. In the region, there is a military presence that has not been there since the Cold War, and we are following a policy of caution with regard to Putin. On the other hand, the Russians give Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu special treatment that no other world leader has received from Putin. The Israeli air force operates close to the Russian air force in Syria and there is good communication. This relationship is of a kind that has never existed previously with a Russian government, and this can be used to exert pressure on Iran. This possibility must not be dismissed.”
Gold continues his journey around the world regarding the connections created during the tenure of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
“When I was in China, I was invited to address the Communist Party Central Committee. I found a body of 400 senior officers, and the first question they asked me in Beijing was, ‘Who are you closer to? The Americans or to us?’”
“I had to be a diplomat, although there was no U.S. representative there and definitely no TV cameras. So I told them, ‘We have an alliance with the United States, but we need to get to know you. So let’s sit down and talk.’ This was during the period of the Obama administration, and it worked. Afterwards, we started negotiating over a free trade zone with key states in the Middle East, Korea, Japan, and India – things like this would never have happened in the past.”
Q: Netanyahu is also very proud of his renewed ties with the African states.
“We reached countries that we’ve never gotten to in the past. We renewed ties. We wanted to broaden our ties with South Africa. We decided not only to work with the South African government, but also with the various tribes. We worked with them and they became very aware of Israel’s ability to provide them with their needs, and especially water. We returned to South Africa, and there’s what to work with over there. Also in South America, and all the revolutions that it has undergone, Israel has many opportunities.”
Q: Nonetheless, among various international bodies, it is clear that the world is still against us.
“There’s been a change among the international bodies, and it will take time. Throughout the years, we’ve suffered from problematic decisions at the United Nations. Around 20 decisions are made each year at the General Assembly against Israel. It takes time to change voting patterns.”
Q: We’ve already left UNESCO.
“I think that UNESCO needs to know that there’s a price to pay for its behavior. However, we mustn’t give up on any arena where we can explain ourselves. In my position as director-general of the Foreign Ministry, I met the previous director-general of UNESCO in Istanbul. I offered to take the organization’s ambassadors to Rome, to the Arch of Titus, to show them the engraving of the Temple vessels. ‘No one could say afterwards that we were never in Jerusalem,’ I told her.”
Also at the UN Human Rights Council, which is constantly biased against Israel, Gold is sure that Israel’s presence is very important. “The Human Rights Council gave us a big present – the Goldstone Report. This is a very problematic body. They have an agenda item at every meeting just for resolutions regarding Israel. It is not a body that passes resolutions based on justice. Therefore, we have a difficult problem. But it’s important for our arguments to be heard there. We must never abandon any PR or diplomatic arena.”
Gold even has a story to explain this issue. “In 2009, I received a communication from Brandeis University. They invited Goldstone to speak, and they wanted me to be there as well. I approached the prime minister’s staff, and they put me in touch with a senior IDF source who went over all of the arguments that were appropriate to present at this debate. The more that I prepared myself with information from the army, the more I felt within my bones the justice of our arguments. I debated with one of the biggest jurists in international law, and I beat him because it was simply a part of me. I never said this. It was written in The Boston Globe after the event.”
Dr. Gold is sure that the country also has an obligation to maintain the office that he ran. “The Foreign Affairs Ministry has a problem. It doesn’t have the prestige of the intelligence services. When the Foreign Ministry approaches the Finance Ministry, the clerks don’t show it any respect. This ministry needs to have the ability to represent Israel and win the diplomatic struggle that we are facing. The Foreign Ministry would be able to do this if it had the means and the direction.”
A clause in Dore Gold’s resume that is less well-known to the wider public is specifically with regard to the improvement of relations with moderate Arab states. These are activities that are best kept quiet. However, Gold agreed to reveal a little about these activities.
“I arranged a series of meetings with Gen. (res.) Anwar Eshki, chairman of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, in 2014 and 2015. In the end, he suggested that we do this openly. We shared a podium at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and attacked the nuclear deal. Three days later, I became the director-general of the Foreign Ministry. It should also be mentioned that later on, Eshki also paid a visit to Israel.
“In the United Arab Emirates, we worked with Abu Dhabi in a slightly different way. There, there’s an international body that works on renewable energy, and it functions in a similar way to the United Nations. There are member states, and the organization’s headquarters is in Abu Dhabi. Most countries send their ambassadors there, and they also function as ambassadors to this organization. We don’t have an ambassador in Abu Dhabi, but the organization agreed to let us have a representative, and this has actually worked. I can’t say whether the ambassador to the renewable energy organization has passed on any messages from Israel to Abu Dhabi, as there are other channels. This is one way to get into places like this. I prefer not to discuss other channels, if they exist.”
Hebrew version of this article – https://www.inn.co.il/News/News.aspx/370596