UN Secretary General to visit Israel this month

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The new United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres is set to make a three-day visit to Israel on Aug. 28, the first time he has been to the Holy Land since taking on the UN’s top job in January.

He will meet with Israel’s President Ruben Reuven and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, among others.

Guterres is an experienced Portuguese diplomat and politician. He served as prime minister of Portugal from 1999 to 2005 and, for an extended period, as the UN high commissioner for refugees from 2005 to 2015.

“He has been to Israel in the past. He knows the complexity of the issues. He is not someone who comes to our region and has no clue about what is happening,” Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon told AFP reporters.

The secretary’s visit comes at time of deadlock in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. It also follows the recent crisis over security at the Temple Mount.

The visit will provide an opportunity to see and understand the challenges that Israel faces every day. This may be important following a statement Guterres made to mark 50 years since the Six-Day War. He said Israel’s “occupation” of  the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Syria’s Golan Heights had “imposed a heavy humanitarian and development burden” on Palestinians.

At the same time he made this statement, the UN Chief also distanced himself and his office from a UN conference organized by pro-Palestinian UN group in June to mark 50 years of Israeli control of the West Bank. The New York summit was called the “United Nations Forum to Mark Fifty Years of Occupation.” Some of the conference participants had ties to Palestinian terrorist organizations Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

In March, Guterres also demanded the withdrawal of a UN report accusing Israel of committing “apartheid” against Palestinians.

“Particularly because of the UN’s discriminating treatment of Israel, it’s important for the secretary general to see the complex challenges Israel is dealing with up close, along with its great contribution to the world as an innovative and groundbreaking country in many fields,” Danon said.