UN Security-General, António Guterres - UN Photo - Manuel Elias
CAIRO – 5 August 2017: The United Nations (UN) Secretary General (SG), Antonio Guterres, will visit Palestine and Israel on August 28, for the first time since his appointment. Guterres’s three-day visit is planned to West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel.
The SG’s visit comes amid Israeli escalation in the old city of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque since July 14 that lead to killing more than 20 Palestinians and 6 Israelis in addition to detaining more than 650 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies. The visit aims to diplomatically revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which appear deadlocked. Guterres, is expected to meet with Israeli leaders, travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas and then visit the Gaza Strip and meet with members of the UN Relief and Works Agency which runs major humanitarian programs in Gaza.
Riyad Mansour, the permanent observer of Palestine to the UN, said that it is a very important visit that signals the UN focus on the plight of Palestinians. He also said that the visit will include meetings with Palestinians from all walks of life including technology entrepreneurs and social activists, as well as visiting the grave of late Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian museum. "The UN has been involved since its inception with the question of Palestine and will remain involved until the question is resolved in all its aspects on the basis of international law," Mansour told AFP.
Mansour added that Palestinians hope the SG will reiterate his stated position that there is no Plan B to the two-state solution. “If there is no Plan B, then the suspension of settlement activities throughout the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, is essential,” he explained.
Furthermore, AFP reported that Israel's UN Ambassador, Danny Danon, commented on the visit saying that it will allow Guterres to "build a relationship" with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "We are very happy about this visit," Danon told AFP. He added that the Israeli government will discuss strengthening the mission of the UN interim force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), following a series of skirmishes along the UN-monitored demarcation line between Israel and Lebanon.
The UN-Israel-US tensions:
UN-Israel relations were tense over the UN Security Council Resolution 2334 which recognizes the Israeli settlements as illegal. The UNSCR 2334 mandates the SG to regularly report to the Security Council on the resolution implementation progress. Since the resolution was passed in December 2016, three mandated three-month reports have been presented by Guterres’ deputy on Palestine. Palestinian officials have requested that these reports become part of the official UN records. According to Washington Post, this resolution to a plan by the U.S congress to battle the major international organization has unpredictable results.
Lindsey Graham, a member of the Republican Party commented on the resolution, “The U.N. has made it impossible for us to continue with business as usual. Almost every Republican will feel like this is a betrayal of Israel and the only response that we have is the power of purse.”
Furthermore, tensions escalated following the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognition of the old city of Hebron in the West Bank as a Palestinian world heritage site in July, and the UNESCO's executive board resolution that criticizes Israel's actions in occupied Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in May.
Both Guterres and the UN are facing obstacles related to the pro-Israeli and anti-UN position of the U.S and the pressures hindering the international organization’s global efforts. An example of these obstacles is the stance of the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, in March when she blocked the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, from taking on a senior position as a peace envoy to Libya.
Haley described the UN then as “unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel.” Haley also said that she is against any Palestinian holding a senior position at the UN, because Palestine is not a recognized state.
Also in March, the UN Chief was forced by the U.S. to withdraw a report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), accusing Israel of imposing an apartheid regime of racial discrimination on the Palestinian people. It was the first time a U.N. body had clearly made this charge. Israel then described the report as a “Nazi propaganda publication that was strongly anti-Semitic” and the U.S. said it was outraged by the report.
"The United Nations secretariat was right to distance itself from this report, but it must go further and withdraw the report altogether," the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said in a statement.
Furthermore, the U.S., the major contributor to the UN (22 percent of the UN’s core budget is from the U.S.), has made several cuts to this aid fund including funds directed to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the peacekeeping missions threatening thousands of people across the world.
Guterres was appointed as the UN Secretary General on January 1, 2017 when he pledged to make 2017 a year for peace and said "Let us resolve to put peace first." Following the escalations in Jerusalem after the killing of two Palestinian youth and an Israeli soldier on July 14 at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound including Israel’s closure of the Mosque and installation of metal detectors, Guterres called for de-escalation and respect for the status quo at holy sites.