The visit of U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to Israel this week began in a rather undiplomatic fashion. In the welcoming (or unwelcoming) ceremony, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a speech in which he expressed outrage at the international body’s historical anti-Israel bias, in particular the egregious failure of the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in Lebanon to do its job of keeping Hezbollah from rearming. The content of the speech caused some headlines to describe Netanyahu as “ripping” the U.N. and subjecting its head to a “blistering” diatribe.
Though Guterres represents an entity that has long been hostile to the State of Israel, the U.N. chief entered the office with a record of moderation on Mideast issues, raising hopes that matters might improve during his tenure. Yet even before his arrival in Yerushalayim, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely was declaring that Israel would confront Guterres and tell him that it will “no longer tolerate anti-Israel bias” — Israel will cut its membership contributions if there will be no change.
Hotovely is not a senior policymaker, but judging from the posture taken by the prime minister the following day, she was precisely on message. It was indeed a time for telling off the U.N.
No one expected that Guterres would immediately respond with a vow to fire the UNIFIL commander, who sees no evil in the missile installations springing up on the Israel-Lebanon border, or to disband the blatantly anti-Semitic U.N. Human Rights Council, or to repudiate UNESCO’s incessant campaign to deny the ancient Jewish connection to Har Habayis.
Guterres was forewarned that his welcome would not be of the type he is accustomed to in the sedate corridors of the U.N. and the ambassadorial suites of midtown Manhattan. That he presumably agreed in advance to such a tongue-lashing is worth a raised eyebrow at least.
As a former prime minister of Portugal, Guterres is no doubt a skilled politician; but his performance at the press conference was possibly one of the highlights of his diplomatic career.
Guterres blandly stated that he will “do everything in my capacity” to ensure that UNIFIL fulfills its obligations. Calling himself an impartial “honest broker” and a “messenger of peace,” he said “all countries must be treated equally both by the secretary-general and the secretariat that the secretary-general directs. This is for me very clear, and you can be sure that these values will be upheld.”
Guterres appeared unfazed by the confrontational treatment he endured at the press conference, and afterwards went off with the prime minister to take in an exhibition at the Israel Museum of some of the innovative technologies that the “startup nation” is bestowing on the world.
On the other hand, Israeli officials were quite put out by the behavior of the U.N. chief on the following day. While his visit to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah was on the official itinerary, not all that happened there was.
In a smooth execution of “moral equivalency,” Guterres, who on Monday went to Yad Vashem and declared that calling for Israel’s destruction is anti-Semitism, on Tuesday laid a wreath at the tomb of arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat, condemned Israeli building in Yehudah and Shomron, and said the U.N. would do everything possible for the realization of the Palestinian state that had been Arafat’s dream.
Then, after meeting with PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, he sat down with the mother of four terrorists who collectively murdered 19 Israelis, offering his sympathy and encouragement.
Guterres reportedly promised the chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners Authority, Issa Qaraqe: “We understand the suffering of the Palestinian prisoners, and are working with the relevant officials in order to stop their suffering.”
Unnamed Israeli officials were “angered” by the visit with the terror mom; but in the view of the Almagor Terror Victims’ Association, that wasn’t enough to discharge their responsibility as hosts of the secretary-general. The Association demanded some diplomatic sanction, or at least an apology from Guterres for “blatantly disrespecting” the victims of terror.
Instead they got an official denial from the U.N., which said that the tete-a-tete was not a planned event, that Guterres was approached by the mothers of “child detainees” who wanted to give him a petition. The U.N. further disavowed any statements of support for terrorists in Guterres’ name that appeared in the Palestinian media that day.
Is Guterres the kind of person who just can’t say no? Was he ambushed by publicity-seekers? It’s possible; it happens.
But the pilgrimage to Arafat’s tomb was not improvised; it was as carefully scripted as any other official gesture.
If calling for the destruction of Israel is anti-Semitism, what is it when you pay tribute to terrorists dedicated to destroying Israel? Diplomacy? Even-handedness? Philo-Palestinianism?
Prime Minister Netanyahu claims that things are changing at the United Nations, asserting that as African countries are being pried from their alliance with the Arab bloc by a determined Israeli technological and counter-terror outreach, the automatic anti-Israel majority at the U.N. will soon be a thing of the past. Whether and when this will happen remains to be seen. In the meantime, it appears that with help from Nikki Haley, as pro-Israel an ambassador as could be wished for, Israel’s position at the U.N. seems to be improving. But if the conduct of Secretary General Antonio Guterres this week is any indication, acceptance of Israel as a full-fledged member of its “family of nations” is not as close to becoming a reality as some are hoping.