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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Monday, September 25, 2017

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday that a two-state solution remains the only path to peace for Israel and the Palestinians.

“I want to express very strongly the total commitment of the United Nations and my personal total commitment to the two-state solution,” Guterres said after meeting Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah, after having spoken with Israeli leadership the day before.

Guterres also spoke on Israeli settlements in the West Bank Tuesday, calling them a “major obstacle” to peace and noting that they are “illegal under international law”.

Earlier Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to never uproot Israeli settlements in the West Bank, enraging Palestinians and raising questions about U.S. peace efforts in the region.

White House adviser Jared Kushner spoke with Netanyahu and Hamdallah days earlier during a visit to Israel and the West Bank.  Netanyahu spoke at a ceremony Monday night in Barkan, a settlement in the northern West Bank.

“We have returned here for good,” Netanyahu said. “There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the Land of Israel. Settlements will not be uprooted.”

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for an independent state alongside Israel. Israel captured all three areas in the 1967 Mideast war, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

The Palestinians say that settlements on occupied lands are illegal and undermine the goal of a two-state solution by gobbling up land — a position that is widely backed by the international community.

But since his election, President Donald Trump has broken with the policies of his predecessors and refused to endorse the two-state solution. In turn, Netanyahu has also taken a harder line and no longer speaks of establishing a Palestinian state.

President Trump, in the past, has said he hopes to mediate the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians. He has espoused staunchly pro-Israel rhetoric during his campaign and presidency, but Palestinian leaders have held out hope a deal could be reached.

Secretary General António Guterres began his three-day visit to Israel on Sunday evening, his first to the country since assuming the leadership of the world body in January. Guterres held talks with President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

 When meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Monday, Guterres spoke of what he called “obstacles” to peace between Israel and her Palestinian neighbors. Guterres said that include Israeli settlement building and the need for Palestinian leaders to condemn what Israel labels as “terrorism” 

“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 remarks at Netanyahu’s office.

He recalled past secret talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders at his office when he was prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, saying it had exposed him to the difficulties of the peace process.

Guterres spoke of improving economic and social conditions for Palestinians to provide them with a “dividend” and incentive for peace.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is visiting Turkey and is not expected to meet Guterres during the trip.

Guterres will then travel to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

After arriving on Sunday evening, the U.N. chief met Jason Greenblatt, a top aide to  President Trump charged with pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Greenblatt was part of a U.S. delegation last week including Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner that held talks with Netanyahu and Abbas. He remained in the region for further discussions.

Netanyahu also spoke of what he sees as Israel’s arch-rival Iran seeking to expand its presence in the Middle East, particularly in neighboring Syria.

He accused Iran of building sites to produce “precision-guided missiles” in both Syria and Lebanon.

“Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as war fronts for its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” Netanyahu said in English.

Beyond that, Netanyahu again accused U.N. bodies of bias against his country, saying they had “an absurd obsession with Israel,” and called on Guterres to address it. 

Guterres, meanwhile, said: “To express that the right of existence of the state of Israel doesn’t exist or the wish to destroy the state of Israel is an unacceptable form of modern anti-Semitism.”

Both before and since taking office Guterres has expressed support for Israel’s embattled position at the United Nations: Upon assuming office he said he would use his position as secretary general to push the organization to treat Israel “like any other state.” Then in March, he successfully pressed for a controversial UN report that accused Israel being an “apartheid” state to be shelved.

Guterres has also spoken forcefully about the anti-Semitic nature of many anti-Israel activists, as well as in defense of Israel’s historic ties to the city of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

On the other hand, Guterres has been critical of Israel’s presence in Israel’s biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria.

The visit takes place against a background of growing criticism of the United Nations’ performance in the Middle East, particularly along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. Last week, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, criticized the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon, the UN body tasked with implementing the ceasefire, for failing to act against Hezbollah in the south of the country. As a result the terror group has become entrenched in the civilian population there and has expanded its firepower exponentially.

“Over the past year alone we have shared with the Security Council new information detailing how border towns have become Hezbollah strongholds,” Danon wrote in the Wall Street Journal.” One out of three buildings in the village of Shaqra are now being used to store arms or launch attacks on Israel. We also shared with the council intelligence revealing how the Iranians use civilian airliners to smuggle dangerous arms into southern Lebanon.

“When the Second Lebanon War ended, Hezbollah had around 7,000 rockets. Today, they have more than 100,000,” Danon wrote. 

Guterres told Netanyahu: “I will do everything in my capacity to make sure that UNIFIL fully meets its mandate.”

Moreover, the UN Security Council has been renewing the debates for a year on the UNIFIL mandate, and a vote is expected on August 30, according to a Times of Israel report.

The establishment of UNIFIL dates back to 1978. It was expanded after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah so that peacekeepers could deploy along the border with Israel to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into the south for the first time in decades.

The Times of Israel report also indicated that the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, blasted the commander of the UNIFIL peacekeepers last week, accusing him of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah weapons smuggling.

On Sunday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely echoed Ambassador Haley’s sentiments. “We shall not allow this blindness to continue,” she told Israel Radio.

The deployment of the Hezbollah terror group along Lebanon’s border with Israel was a “very central issue” in the discussions with Guterres.

Haley had said the 10,500-strong UNIFIL force was “not doing its job effectively” and singled out its Irish leader, Major General Michael Beary, according to the Times of Israel report. “What I find totally baffling is the view of the UNIFIL commander General Beary,” Haley told reporters, accusing him of ignoring Hezbollah’s arms dumps. “General Beary says there are no Hezbollah weapons.”

“He seems to be the only person in south Lebanon who is blind. That’s an embarrassing lack of understanding on what’s going on around him,” she said. United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in response that “We have full confidence in (the commander’s) work.”

Guterres told the council in a letter that he intends to look at ways for the peacekeeping force to “enhance its efforts,” but he stressed that it’s primarily the Lebanese military’s responsibility to ensure the south is free of unauthorized weapons.

Last Wednesday, ABC News reported that Russia’s U.N. Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said that the mandate should be renewed as is and added that other countries had voiced the same view during a council discussion.

French Deputy Ambassador Anne Gueguen, whose country is in charge of drafting a proposed renewal, said last week that it was “of paramount importance for the stability of Lebanon and the region, and in the best interest of all, that UNIFIL keeps its mandate and is in a position to fulfill it.”

On Monday, a NYT report recalled Hezbollah’s singular focus as a Lebanese military group fighting Israel since its emergence in the region three decades ago. Since that time, the political theater in the Middle East has seen dramatic shifts and conflicts have flared up that are not even vaguely associated with Israel, so Hezbollah too has felt the need to alter its agenda. The Iranian backed terror organization has rapidly expanded its operations and has sent multitudes of highly trained combatants to Syria and Iraq as well as backing rebels in Yemen. Hezbollah has also played a pivotal role in organizing combatant battalions from Afghanistan that can fight almost anywhere.  

As a result, “Hezbollah” is not just a power unto itself, but is one of the most important instruments in the drive for regional supremacy by its sponsor: Iran.

“Hezbollah” is involved in nearly every fight that matters to Iran and, more significantly, has helped recruit, train and arm an array of new militant groups that are also advancing Iran’s agenda.

By: Fern Sidman