Lessons for Guterres

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who arrived in Israel on Sunday for a three-day visit, which will include meetings in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza City, is no stranger to the country.

President Rivlin meets with UN Sec. Gen. Antonio Guterres (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Rivlin meets with UN Sec. Gen. Antonio Guterres
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
There is nothing that compares to first-hand impressions when shaping one’s opinions about the world around us. Ask any reporter and he or she will tell you that being on the scene, seeing things for yourself and meeting with people face to face are all essential in order to achieve an accurate and well-balanced account of what happened.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is getting his own taste of what it is like to gather first-hand impressions. And he is doing it in a country that is bashed so regularly in the conference rooms, assemblies and corridors of Turtle Bay.
Guterres, who arrived Sunday for a three-day visit, which will include meetings in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza City, is no stranger to Israel. A seasoned Portuguese diplomat, Guterres has visited the country in the past.
But since being appointed to head the UN, Guterres has been made very aware of the bias against Israel that exists in the world body. US Ambassador Nikki Haley has turned the issue into a crusade. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted in a speech in Jerusalem to an audience that included Guterres that the UN’s preoccupation with Israel was an “absurd obsession.”
Unlike his predecessors, Guterres has been remarkably receptive. In March, the UN chief demanded that a report by a UN body be withdrawn after it accused Israel of imposing an apartheid system on the Palestinians.
In May, he withdrew UN support for a women’s center in the Palestinian Authority named after Dalal Mughrabi, a Fatah terrorist who took part in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre that left 38 Israelis dead, 13 of them children.
In June, he distanced himself from an initiative in the UN by Palestinians groups, including terrorist organizations that are responsible for the murder of Israeli citizens, to mark 50 years of Israeli “occupation.”
Now, Guterres has an opportunity as head of the UN to see first hand just how absurd it is to single out Israel for castigation – and to bring about change when he returns to the UN headquarters in New York.
Walking or traveling around Jerusalem and to and from Ramallah, Guterres will see how Palestinians and Israelis live together in relatively harmony. Apartheid or ethnic cleansing are nowhere to be seen. Restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, Gazans, and other measures that make Palestinians lives more difficult are not the product of racism or nationalism but are rather steps taken by Israel to defend itself against attempts by Palestinian groups that enjoy broad support within Palestinian society to carry out terrorist attacks against Israelis.
It will become clear to Guterres that the UN’s so-called Human Rights Committee is deviating from basic criteria of truth and fairness when it singles out Israel for condemnation while giving special honors to moral luminaries such as Cuba, Pakistan, Russia and Syria. The UNHRC’s Agenda Item 7 dictates that Israel’s purported human rights violations must be raised and discussed every single time the UNHRC convenes. No other country in the world is treated with such hyper-criticism so unfairly.
He will realize that it is a travesty of justice for the General Assembly and the Security Council to adopt more resolutions against Israel than those adopted against Syria, North Korea and Iran put together.
Guterres will also have a unique opportunity to see Israeli innovation in action. He will take part in a technology conference that presents Israeli contributions in the fields of water security, desalination, medicine and agriculture that are helping to radically improve the lives of people around the world, especially in the Third World.
After seeing the reality in Israel, we hope Guterres will be motivated to return to UN headquarters and bring about change. Doing away with Agenda Item 7, which singles out Israel for perpetual censure in the UNHRC, would be a good place to start.
Another important step would be to for the UN Relief and Works Agency to change the way it defines refugees. Palestinians who fled in 1948 are the only refugees in the world who bequeath their special status to future generations. By changing the definition of “who’s a Palestinian refugee” the UN can begin treating Palestinians the same way it treats all other refugees.
Guterres has come to Israel, experienced Israeli society first hand and will undoubtedly be impressed by what he will see. Now he must take the next step – doing away with anti-Israel bias in the UN.