Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is to convene a meeting of senior ministry officials Sunday to discuss whether to declare the UN’s Mideast envoy, Robert Serry, persona non grata, a move that would result in his expulsion.
The discussion comes amid allegations in the Foreign Ministry that Serry worked inside the UN to transfer $20 million from Qatar to Hamas to pay salaries.
According to diplomatic sources, Serry asked Israel and the Palestinian Authority to allow the transfer of the funds, but was met with refusals from both sides. He did not give up, however, and continued to push the idea through the UN institutions.
According to the sources, he wanted the money to be transferred to UN agencies, which would then transfer it to Hamas inside Gaza.
The sources said that Serry was trying to find an alternative avenue to getting funds to Hamas, since the Egyptians have closed the smuggling tunnels through which the money used to pass.
The sources said that for Liberman this was the final straw in a long history of what he viewed as very problematic behavior by the UN envoy.
For instance, the official said that in April Serry accused Israel of barring diplomats and Palestinians from participating in a pre-Easter religious ceremony.
Israeli officials denied the charges, saying Serry inflated a “micro-incident” to make Israel look bad before Pope Francis’s visit.
On Friday, Serry issued a statement condemning Israel for its hunt in the West Bank looking for Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah.
“The Special Coordinator is deeply concerned by reports that Israeli security operations in the West Bank since the abduction of three Israeli students have resulted in over 300 Palestinians arrested, many injured and three Palestinians killed, including one minor this morning,” the statement said.
The statement called on Israel to act with “restraint,” and said the UN expected “Israel to carry out the related security operations in compliance with international law and respect for the lives, dignity and livelihoods of Palestinians.”
Serry did not issue any condemnation when the kidnapping took place, though a condemnation was issued swiftly by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office.
Serry routinely issues condemnations of Israel for everything from settlement construction to “price tag” incidents. Similar condemnations on his behalf regarding Palestinian violence against Jews are few and far between. “He does not even try to look neutral or objective anymore,” a senior diplomatic source said.
Serry issued a statement rejecting the allegations that he tried to transfer funds to Hamas.
He said that he did visit Qatar a few weeks ago, but that the issue of a UN role on the payment of salaries did not come up.
“There have since been reports that Qatar has been considering assisting in this issue,” he said. “And indeed I was approached last Thursday informally by Prime Minister [Rami] Hamdallah of the Palestinian Authority. In considering any UN role on the issue of payments of salaries in Gaza that has potentially destabilizing effects on security in Gaza, I made it clear that we would only be able to be of assistance if acceptable to all stakeholders, including Israel. This information was immediately shared with Israeli authorities at the working level and their initial reaction was indeed negative.”
Serry, a Dutch diplomat, asserted that in the past seven years as the UN’s Mideast envoy he has “carried out my work with impartiality in an effort to assist both Israelis and Palestinians. It is now disheartening to hear that in considering a request from one of the parties in the aforementioned effort, the integrity of my role is being questioned.”
Any decision to declare Serry persona non grata would have to be approved by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who spoke over the weekend with Ban, updated him on the developments in the West Bank and said that Israel has unequivocal evidence that Hamas was behind the kidnappings.
Netanyahu said Israel appreciated his swift condemnation of the kidnappings.
He also said that Israel opposed the transfer of Qatari funds to Hamas. It was not immediately clear, however, whether the Serry issue was raised in the conversation.
“We are witnessing the unrestrained brutality of Islamic terrorism both in Israel and around us,” Netanyahu told Ban.
“Israel is determined to defend itself in the face of the murderous terrorism directed against it.”