Guterres must replace his two-state dreams with a drastic call to action

Guterres must replace his two-state dreams with a drastic call to action
6 min read
04 Sep, 2017
Comment: The UN chief skilfully tiptoed around the core issues, it's time he made a clear call to action, writes Hasan Abu Nimah.
Guterres should demand that the dozens of UN Security Council resolutions are implemented [AFP]
On his first visit to Israel since taking office, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres held talks with Israeli leaders last week affirming his support for a two-state solution as well as, surprisingly, his "dream" for peace.

"I dream that I will have the chance to see in the Holy Land two states able to live together in mutual recognition, but also in peace and security" Guterres said in his remarks at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's office.

Dreams often offer a soothing medium of fantasy when aspirations, objectives and goals become impossible goals. But dreamers - as opposed to realists - create their own world, isolate themselves from reality and escape into their own virtual spheres of illusion. 

And while that suits poets, artists, visionaries and fantasists, it should not offer any escape to statesmen and politicians; least of all the United Nations Secretary-General who sits at the helm of the highest international body tasked with maintaining peace and security for the entire world. 

Mr Guterres is a decision maker, legally in charge of international law and order. His role is not that of a commentator limited to providing reflections, wishful thinking and goodwill aspirations, particularly during such an historic visit to a war-struck region, rife with instability and violence that has been escalating for decades.

Of course we are all aware of the undue constraints that bind UN Secretaries'-General freedom of action, but room for political manoeuver usually allows ample space for cautious movement. It is within this space that the UN Chief has quite skilfully managed to tiptoe around the core issues. 

Guterres addressed a number of issues that the Americans refrained from even mentioning

To give credit where it's due, however, the positions he set out both in the presence of the Israelis and the Palestinians, were strides ahead of the American peace mission that was just wrapping up its tour in the region at the time of his arrival.

Mr Guterres addressed a number of issues that the Americans refrained from even mentioning, namely the two-state solution, settlements, ending the occupation and the decade long siege of Gaza.

Both last June and this time round, Jared Kushner - President Trump's senior advisor and son-in-law - and his team, refrained from committing themselves to the two-state principle, despite the expectations clearly expressed by the Palestinians.

Prior to embarking on their mission, a State Department spokeswoman remarked that commitment to the two-state formula would involve bias to one of the two conflicting sides, obviously referring to the Palestinian side, whereas impartiality requires that such a vital matter be left for them to settle among themselves.

The two-state formula - currently reduced to an empty slogan - was not created as a concession to the Palestinians

The point they are missing here, is that the two-state formula - currently reduced to an empty slogan - was not created as a concession to the Palestinians. Instead, it was specifically coined to annul previous calls for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, replacing them with an alternative formula that links the possible rise of a future Palestinian state, with continued confirmation of the existence of the state of Israel. 

As Israel gradually began to withdraw its support for the two-state formula, while the Palestinians held on to it, the false notion that it only serves the Palestinian side surfaced. 

In contrast, Guteres has been clear about his support, as well as that of his organisation for the two states. 

Even clearer was the position of the Secretary-General on the settlements. In Israel, he announced his objection to the continued construction of settlements, but in order to balance his statement, as most officials in such a situation would do, he opted to apportion some of the blame to the Palestinian leaders demanding that they condemn "terrorism", violence and incitement. 

Read more: A moral case against normalisation with Israel

Guterres again lashed out at Israeli illegal settlement activity calling it a "major obstacle" to achieving a two-state solution and peace with the Palestinians. "There is no plan B to the two state solution" he said, adding: "We believe that settlement activity is illegal in the international law and it's an obstacle for peace". 

More importantly, Guterres explicitly stated that an "end to occupation, creating conditions to end the suffering of the Palestinian people [is] the only way to guarantee that peace is established". 

However it is hard to believe that the Secretary-General really believes that the Palestinians are terrorists, or that they alone are responsible for the ongoing deplorable violence, when in fact the main source of al the violence is the longest and harshest occupation in modern history.

Why did Mr Guterres not demand that the dozens of UN Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions on the Arab Israeli conflict be implemented, so that the occupation would practically end, and the injustice planted in Palestine in 1948 would be redressed as a prerequisite for peace and security for all of the regions' people, Israelis included?

The Middle East region has been plagued by unprecedented levels of violence, terrorism, war, devastation, fragmentation, communal discord and instability, for no less than eight consecutive decades. But the parties that contributed to the trouble are well known and far more numerous than many like to admit.

As Israel gradually began to withdraw its support for the two-state formula, while the Palestinians held on to it, the false notion that it only serves the Palestinian side surfaced

The Arab Israeli conflict has been a major source of radicalisation, extremism, religious tensions and disturbance and the failure of the UN to resolve the seven-decade old conflict marks an indelible stain on the UN's record. 

This is why the Arab Israeli conflict has been a standard item on the UN agenda since its creation. And, year after year, it occupies much of the organisation's time and effort, but not out of sheer obsession or bias against Israel as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu bitterly complained to Guterres, rather it is because Israel is an occupier, a violator of international law, and a state that has hardly complied with UN resolutions or principles since it was created in 1948.

In fact Israel has routinely resisted the UN's involvement in the conflict right from the beginning.

On the last leg of his tour, the Secretary-General visited Gaza where he demanded an end to the siege. "It was important to open the closures" he said in reference to the blockades. 

Very few officials have ventured to visit the most densely populated narrow strip on earth, but, like those before him, Guterres realised the scale of the ongoing tragedy only after seeing it with his own eyes, and his shock was clear:

"I am deeply moved to be in Gaza, unfortunately to witness the most dramatic humanitarian crisis that I have seen in many years working as a humanitarian in the UN" he said.

The UN official's pronouncements on some of the key components towards any progress for a reasonable settlement of the Arab Israeli conflict seem to be clear and focused. However, not one has crossed the line between a benign "declaration of intent" and a drastic call for action.

Guterres was right to define some of the vital ingredients required for a peace settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He was right to reaffirm the position of the UN on the said issues. But he stopped short of boldly calling for UN action to implement the principles, resolutions and agreed terms of reference to speed up the process for forging a final settlement. 

Hasan Abu Nimah is Former Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.