Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Shock, horror, a truthful UN report.

Here are two of my reports in today's Guardian on the Secret UN report condemns US for Middle East failures which also carries Alvaro de Soto's excellent report on the failures of the peace process

Envoy's damning verdict revealed as violence takes Gaza closer to civil war

Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem and Ian Williams in New York
Wednesday June 13, 2007
The Guardian

The highest ranking UN official in Israel has warned that American pressure has "pummelled into submission" the UN's role as an impartial Middle East negotiator in a damning confidential report.

The 53-page "End of Mission Report" by Alvaro de Soto, the UN's Middle East envoy, obtained by the Guardian, presents a devastating account of failed diplomacy and condemns the sweeping boycott of the Palestinian government. It is dated May 5 this year, just before Mr de Soto stepped down.

The revelations from inside the UN come after another day of escalating violence in Gaza, when at least 26 Palestinians were killed after Hamas fighters launched a major assault. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the rival Fatah group, warned he was facing an attempted coup.

Mr de Soto condemns Israel for setting unachievable preconditions for talks and the Palestinians for their violence. Western-led peace negotiations have become largely irrelevant, he says.

Mr de Soto is a Peruvian diplomat who worked for the UN for 25 years in El Salvador, Cyprus and Western Sahara. He says:

· The international boycott of the Palestinians, introduced after Hamas won elections last year, was "at best extremely short-sighted" and had "devastating consequences" for the Palestinian people

· Israel has adopted an "essentially rejectionist" stance towards the Palestinians

· The Quartet of Middle East negotiators - the US, the EU, Russia and the UN - has become a "side-show"

·The Palestinian record of stopping violence against Israel is "patchy at best, reprehensible at worst"

Mr de Soto acknowledges in the report that he is its sole author. It was meant only for senior UN officials, and its wording is far more critical than the public pronouncements of UN diplomats. Last night, Mr de Soto, who is in New York, told the Guardian: "It is a confidential document and not intended for publication."

In January last year, the Quartet called on the newly elected Hamas government to commit to non-violence, recognise Israel and accept previous agreements. When Hamas refused to sign up to the principles, the international community halted direct funding to the Palestinian government and Israel started to freeze the monthly tax revenues that it had agreed to pass to the Palestinians. Several hundred million dollars remain frozen.

Mr de Soto, who had opposed the boycott, said this position "effectively transformed the Quartet from a negotiation-promoting foursome guided by a common document [the road map for peace] into a body that was all-but imposing sanctions on a freely elected government of a people under occupation as well as setting unattainable preconditions for dialogue".

The EU said yesterday that there was an imminent risk of civil war if fighting went on, and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon urged support for Mr Abbas's efforts "to restore law and order".

In the heaviest day of fighting in Gaza for months, Hamas appeared to make its first concerted effort to seize power in Gaza. There was a wave of co-ordinated attacks, which appeared to overwhelm the larger but less effective Fatah force. "Decisiveness will be in the field," said Islam Shahwan, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing.

Fatah's central committee called an emergency meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank, and said it would suspend the activities of its ministers in the government. Fatah would pull out of the government if the fighting failed to stop, it said.

For the first time in several weeks, fighting spread to the West Bank when Fatah gunmen attacked a Hamas television studio in Ramallah and kidnapped a Hamas deputy cabinet minister from the city.

The day began with a rocket attack on the private house in Gaza of Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister and a Hamas leader. He was in the building but was not hurt. Fighting spread across Gaza City and within hours Hamas fighters issued warnings over loudspeakers calling on all Fatah security forces to pull out of their bases and return home. At about 2pm Hamas gunmen seized control of several small Fatah bases and one large base in northern Gaza, where there were heavy casualties when Hamas fighters fired mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at the compound.

Several Fatah officers complained that they had received no orders during the day. Mr Abbas tried calling for a truce, and later Fatah ordered its officers to fight back.
N was pummelled into submission, says outgoing Middle East special envoy

· Negotiators 'lost impartiality' says report
· Palestinians also criticised over violence

Read Alvaro de Soto's end of mission report

Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem and Ian Williams in New York
Wednesday June 13, 2007
The Guardian

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."

No comments: