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UN Chief Visits The Holy Land (31/08/2017)

New UN Chief Antonio Guterres visited Israel and the Palestinian territories for the first time this week, where he made promises to combat any unfair treatment of Israel and anti-Semitism everywhere, and called on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza.

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (center) is accompanied by Israel´s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon (center right) as he tours the Gaza border. (Source: IDF Spokesperson´s Unit)

On Sunday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited Israel for the first time since assuming the role in January.

Gutteres took the standard diplomatic rounds of Ramallah, Gaza, Yad Vashem and the home of the Israeli president in Jerusalem, where he decried the spread of anti-Semitism while also criticizing the Jewish state’s expansion of West Bank settlements.

After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to his concerns regarding the UN’s lackluster enforcement of Security Council Resolution 1701, which was intended to prevent Hezbollah from arming itself after the 2006 Lebanon war, Israeli President Reuvin Rivlin asked the Secretary-General to “end the discrimination against Israel in some branches of your organization.”

Guterres condemned any discrimination or unfair treatment towards Israel from the UN, telling Rivlin: “This targeting of Israel, this singling out of the world’s only Jewish state, and even actions and statements that threaten to destroy Israel are unacceptable and should come at a price. No member state in the UN should be allowed to behave like that. These actions weaken cooperation between states and are against the rule of law.”

To Netanyahu’s concerns about Hezbollah, Guterres struck another friendly chord by saying he understands “the concerns of Israel and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective.”

While discussing the issue of anti-Semitism with Rivlin, Guterres noted the impact of his visit to Yad Vashem, which he said served as a reminder to “all of us that the Holocaust occurred not so very long ago” and that “we must position ourselves as spearheads in the struggle against anti-Semitism and against all forms of racism, whatever they may be.”

While taking a strong stance against anti-Semitism and mistreatment of Israel at the UN, Guterres also made clear the importance of the discrepancy between criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism.

“I believe that the calls for destroying Israel which you, Mr. President, spoke of, constitute modern anti-Semitism” said Guterres, “But I am certain that you understand that sometimes there are between us and between the government of Israel differences of opinions, as happens with other governments.”

On that note, Guterres told Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah during their meeting on Tuesday, “There is no plan B to the two-state solution”, adding, “A two-state solution, end to occupation, creating conditions to end the suffering of the Palestinian people are the only way to guarantee that peach is established.”

“We believe that settlement activity is illegal in the international law and it’s an obstacle for peace”, Guterres added.

Secretary-General Antףnio Guterres (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel brief the press in Jerusalem (source: Shlomi Amsalem/UN News Centre)

On Wednesday, the UN chief further developed his position on the Israel/Palestinian conflict in Gaza City, where he called for Israel’s decade-long blockade to be lifted.

“I am deeply moved to be in Gaza today, unfortunately to witness one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises that I’ve seen in many years working as a humanitarian in the United Nations”, Guterres told a Palestinian crowd at an elementary school in Gaza. Guterres also called for an end to the “militantism” of Hamas, the governing body of Gaza.

The relationship between the UN and Israel has been testy over the years since the end of the Six-Day Way in 1967, but 2017 has taken the relationship to new heights of awkwardness following the UN’s vote to condemn new Israeli settlements as against international law.

Before leaving the Holy Land, Guterres made one last stop at The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, where told an audience: “These lands are the ancestral homelands of two peoples who both have an undeniable historical and religious bond to it. Both have a right to live on it as independent, free people as masters of their own fate.

“It is now overdue that the Palestinians also fulfill their legitimate rights and national aspirations”, the Secretary-General added.

During his trip Guterres appears to have made strides in endearing himself to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders as a more honest, more informed and committed peace broker than, say, US President Trump, who has frustrated both sides since taking office.


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