JERUSALEM – When senior Israeli officials talk these days about the United Nations, they use terminology they'd normally employ when discussing Yasser Arafat. Duplicitous and double-dealing. An enemy of Israel, whipping up world sentiment against the Jewish state.
And those are some of the milder epithets being tossed around.
Israel's relationship with the United Nations, long fraught with tension and turbulence, has skidded to a sharp new low with the rancorous dispute over events in the Jenin refugee camp and how they should best be brought to light.
Among officialdom and ordinary Israelis alike, the confrontation is serving to fuel a larger sense of isolation and grievance, of being misunderstood by outsiders who do not understand the harsh realities of daily life here.
Late Wednesday, the Security Council was meeting to decide how to proceed after Israel a day earlier set a series of preconditions that blocked the start of an already-delayed U.N. fact-finding team's mission.
Nearly three weeks after the worst of the Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the Jenin camp, a ragged shantytown in the northern West Bank, some of the most explosive allegations by Palestinians — including their central claim that hundreds of innocents had been systematically slaughtered by Israeli troops — have thus far found no credible support.
However, many human rights groups have raised questions over maltreatment, though perhaps not deliberate, of Palestinian civilians who lived among the gunmen who had made the camp their stronghold.
While insisting it remains eager for an airing of the facts, Israel accused Annan and top deputies of altering the nature and focus of the U.N. inquiry originally agreed to on April 19 with Israel's support.
"The goalposts were moved," said Mark Sofer, a veteran Israeli diplomat.
Israel says it wants military experts on the team and does not want the delegation to be able to subpoena military personnel. It also wants the team to investigate the Palestinian terrorism that preceded the operation.
Among Israelis, there is frustration and incredulity over what is perceived as overwhelming Palestinian success in the public-relations war over Jenin.
Scenes of grieving Palestinians picking through the field of debris — roughly the size of two football fields — that remained of the camp's center have galvanized world opinion.
But in Israel, the assault on Jenin is regarded as a straightforward military operation justified by the camp's role as the source of at least 20 suicide bombers. As for endangerment of civilians, Israel lays that responsibility at the doorstep of the gunmen who sought shelter in the camp.
"From our point of view, there is a cause and effect here — we didn't wake up one morning and decide to go into the Jenin camp," said Sofer. "What was there was the stronghold, the focal point, the military fort that had been set up by Palestinians in that area."
Israel has faced a flood of international criticism over conditions in Jenin in the aftermath of the fighting, but the words of a U.N. envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, stirred the greatest outcry here.
Touring the camp on April 18, Roed-Larsen called the devastation "horrifying beyond belief" and said no military end could justify such means.
Even before the growing dispute over Jenin, trust of the United Nations was in short supply in Israel. The 1975 General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism — rescinded in 1991 — still strongly colors the opinion of many here.
"Nothing good will come out of the U.N. — it's an anti-Israeli organization," Gideon Meir, a Foreign Ministry official, said early on in the wrangling over Jenin.
Palestinians, who consider the world body an effective platform for countering U.S. support of Israel, routinely turn broad-ranging U.N. conferences — such as last year's gathering on racism, held in Durban, South Africa — into angry forums centering on their fight with Israel. Conferences on such diverse subjects as urban living, AIDS and children have been beset by similar quarrels.
Israel also believes some U.N.-affiliated agencies exercise a double standard where it is concerned. Long singled out for criticism by the U.N. Human Rights Commission, Israel was stung last week when the 53-member body, wrapping up a gathering last week, failed to denounce Russian abuses in Chechnya.
Another sore point is what Israel saw as insensitivity on the part of Annan in appointing Cornelio Sommaruga, former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, as a member of the fact-finding commission.
Israel's relief and rescue agency, Magen David Adom, is excluded from membership in the 178-nation federation because its emblem, a red Star of David on a white flag, is not officially recognized by the ICRC.
When Israel pulled its troops out of south Lebanon in May 2000, it overcame its traditional mistrust of the United Nations and agreed to accept the world body's demarcation of the border between Israel and Lebanon.
But Israel is still bitter over circumstances surrounding the abduction of three Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas later that year. The guerrillas were believed to have used U.N. uniforms and vehicles, and the United Nations first denied, then acknowledged, having videotapes, considered by Israel to be important evidence, from the abduction site.