UN was pummelled into submission, says outgoing Middle East special envoy
· Negotiators 'lost impartiality' says report
· Palestinians also criticised over violence
Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem and Ian Williams in New York
Wednesday June 13, 2007
American support for Israel has hindered international efforts to broker a peace deal in the Middle East, according to a hard-hitting confidential report from the outgoing UN Middle East envoy.
Alvaro de Soto, who stepped down last month after 25 years at the UN, has exposed the American pressure that he argues has damaged the impartiality of the UN's peace making efforts.
In Mr de Soto's "End of Mission Report", which the Guardian has obtained, he delivers a devastating criticism of both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the international community.
The Quartet of Middle East negotiators - the UN, the US, the EU and Russia - has often failed to hold Israel to its obligations under the Road Map, the current framework for peace talks, he argues.
Over the past two years, the Quartet has gradually lost its impartiality. "The fact is that even-handedness has been pummelled into submission in an unprecedented way since the beginning of 2007," he writes.
He blames overwhelming influence exerted by the US and an "ensuing tendency toward self-censorship" within the UN when it comes to criticism of Israel.
"At almost every juncture a premium is put on good relations with the US and improving the UN's relationship with Israel. I have no problem with either goal but I do have a problem with self-delusion," he writes. "Forgetting our ability to influence the Palestinian scene in the hope that it keeps open doors to Israel is to trade our Ace for a Joker."
Mr de Soto reveals that after Hamas won elections last year it wanted to form a broad coalition government with its more moderate rivals, including Fatah, run by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But the US discouraged other Palestinian politicians from joining. "We were told that the US was against any 'blurring' of the line dividing Hamas from those Palestinian political forces committed to the two-state solution," Mr de Soto writes. It was a year before a coalition government was finally formed.
The US also supported the Israeli decision to freeze Palestinian tax revenues. "The Quartet has been prevented from pronouncing on this because the US, as its representatives have intimated to us, does not wish Israel to transfer these funds to the PA [Palestinian Authority]," he writes. "There is a seeming reflex, in any given situation where the UN is to take a position, to ask first how Israel or Washington will react rather than what is the right position to take."
Mr de Soto opposed the international boycott placed on the Palestinian government after Hamas won elections last year. He argued that it was wrong to use pressure and isolation alone, and proposed retaining dialogue with Hamas. He wanted tougher criticism of Israel as well, but came up against a "heavy barrage" from US officials.
The effect of the boycott was to seriously damage the Palestinian economy and promote radicalism. It also lifted pressure from Israel. "With all focus on the failings of Hamas, the Israeli settlement enterprise and barrier construction has continued unabated," he writes.
The US, he argues, was clearly pushing for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas but Washington misjudged Mr Abbas, who he argues had wanted to co-opt rather than defeat Hamas. Fighting between Fatah and Hamas has intensified in recent months. He quotes an unnamed US official as saying earlier this year: "I like this violence ... It means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas." Since December at least 600 Palestinians have been killed in factional battles.
The report criticises the Palestinians for their violence, and Israel for extending its settlements and barrier in the West Bank. But he also argues that Israeli policies have encouraged continued Palestinian militancy. "I wonder if the Israeli authorities realise that, season after season, they are reaping what they sow, and are systematically pushing along the violence/repression cycle to the point where it is self-propelling," he writes.
Mr de Soto speaks of his frustration in the job, not least that he was refused permission to meet the Hamas and Syrian governments in Damascus. "At best I have been the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process in name only, and since the election of Hamas, I have been the secretary-general's personal representative to the Palestinian Authority for about 10 minutes in two phone calls and one handshake," he writes.
He stepped down in May at the end of his two-year contract and left the UN. The "tipping- point" for his departure came after the new UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said future meetings with a Palestinian prime minister would depend on the actions of his government.
Michele Montas, spokesperson for Mr Ban, said: "It is deeply regrettable that this report has been leaked. The whole point of an end-of-mission report is for our envoys and special representatives to be as candid as possible ... the views in the report should not be considered official UN policy."
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007
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