Israel watched with cautious optimism as former Portuguese prime minister António Guterres succeeded Ban Ki-moon on Sunday as secretary-general of the U.N.
Guterres has a record of being friendly toward Israel but has also been critical of Israeli policies over the Green Line, and there will be tremendous pressure on him to take sides against Israel during his five-year term.
“I met with him and was impressed with his wide knowledge of the U.N. and the international arena,” Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon told The Jerusalem Post. “I hope we can turn a new page with him.”
“I told him that the U.N. system creates so much negative energy against Israel, we just want him to be objective – not for Israel, but objective – and able to withstand the tremendous pressure against Israel that exists inside the U.N.”
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio in October when Guterres was chosen that the new U.N. chief had in the past helped Israel in dealings with the European Union and the Socialist International. “I am sure he will be fair,” Barak said. “His views are closer to those of Amos Oz than [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu. His stances reflect those of the world.”
Micha Harish, a minister of industry and trade when Guterres, then Portugese opposition leader, first traveled to Israel, found him “friendly and was definitely not part of the extreme Left in Europe. I don’t remember any anti-Israel comments by him. I think he will be more fair and less aggressive in the U.N. than his predecessors.”
Changeovers at the Security Council should help Israel somewhat, as five rotating members finished their two-year term and five new countries took their place.
Of the five countries that left the Council, there were three of the four that sponsored the anti-settlement resolution last month: Venezuela, Malaysia, and New Zealand. The fourth sponsor, Senegal, has another year on the Council.
Israel will welcome the entry of Kazakhstan to the Council, with which Israel has good relations, and where Netanyahu visited last month – replacing Malaysia, with which Israel has no diplomatic ties.
Ethiopia, a friendly country, will replace Angola, and Spain will be replaced for one year by Italy, and the other year by The Netherlands, two European Union countries whose voting record on Israel in international forums is better than Spain’s.
However, Venezuela, with whom Israel has no diplomatic ties, will be replaced by Bolivia, which is almost as anti-Israel, and also has no diplomatic ties with Israel.
New Zealand, which refused to bend to Israeli urgings to withdraw from the anti-Israel resolution, turns over its seat to Sweden, which has been a leading critic in the EU and whose foreign minister is officially a persona non grata in Israel.