The UN is a member of the stupidly-named ‘Quartet’ for the Middle East peace process, along with the US, Russia, and the EU. Alvaro de Soto, whose title was (really) “Under-Secretary-General, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, Envoy to the Quartet” has written an End of Mission Report after two years of service.
His job, as he describes it, included “coordination of assistance to the Palestinian territories” as well as “the peace process”. Like many UN positions, such as ‘Special Rapporteur’ John Dugard, whose mandate was defined as pro-Palestinian, there is no attempt made at balance. And de Soto is not balanced: for example, he repeats the charge that the “Israeli closure system” is responsible for the decline in the Palestinian economy — as if checkpoints and closures spring from Israel unprompted by anything the Palestinians do. Nevertheless, he sees himself as fair, and since the report was not intended for widespread distribution, it’s a good look into the mind of a UN bureaucrat.
After the election of Hamas, de Soto did his best to keep the Quartet from reviewing the policy of aid to the PA, and failing that, from adopting the US-suggested formulation that aid would be conditioned on the PA’s recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence, and acceptance of previous agreements.
However, he failed, and as a result, the Quartet was transformed, in his words, “from a negotiation-promoting foursome guided by a common document (the Road Map) into a body that was all but imposing sanctions on a freely-elected government of a people under occupation as well as setting unattainable preconditions for dialogue” [p. 19]
Unattainable? Only if you accept one of two options: either the Palestinians are incapable of acting as a civilized member of the community of nations, or their violent commitment to destroying Israel is justified. You may decide which is de Soto’s point of view. If you have trouble, you may note that he lists Israeli actions against Palestinians in great detail and with indignation, but dismisses, for example, the Qassam barrage which has depopulated Sderot as carried out by ‘militants’ not under PA control whose actions are justified anyway by Israeli counter-terrorist activities on the West Bank.
When he refers to Palestinian terrorism against Israel, he talks about the poor “Palestinian record in stopping violence directed at Israel, and unforgivably and cruelly, at Israeli civilians”. [p. 28] I’m pleased that he deplores terrorism, but he seems to think that it is being carried out by Martians rather than Hamas, elements of Fatah, and their allies.
The consequences for the Palestinians of the international aid boycott — which has been totally ineffective, with aid to Palestinians increasing since the boycott — have been, according to de Soto, “devastating”. Since the total input of dollars has increased, we can only conclude that the devastation is a result of how the Palestinians have chosen to use that aid; need I say that it has been primarily to fight one another and Israel?
De Soto feels that the Quartet has been ineffective primarily because of the role of the US, which he sees as subject to “[Israel’s] unique ability to influence the formulation of US policy” [p. 26]. The Palestinians accept this, because of what they view as the US’ “ability to deliver Israel”. This makes the US indispensable, and de Soto is frustrated by its refusal to embrace the Hamas government.
He mentions Hamas’ ‘abominable charter’ and its “alleged links to “an Iranian regime which makes blood-curdling statements about Israel”. [p. 28] But then he goes on to say in apparent mitigation that “Israeli policies, whether this is intended or not, seem frequently perversely designed to encourage the continued action by Palestinian militants”. [p. 29]
Leaving aside the outrageous suggestion that Israel may intend to encourage ‘militants’, de Soto displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the conflict, and his own ignorance of history. Palestinian Arab violence against Jewish civilians has been a regular thing since the 1920’s and before. It has been a constant in the relationship, both when Israel made concessions or showed restraint, and when Israel struck back hard. Hamas’ abominable charter is not just an embarrassing obstacle to understanding, but is a true expression of Hamas’ goals.
The fact is that terrorism does not thrive on despair, as de Soto approvingly quotes Kofi Annan as saying. Terrorism against civilians is a deliberate tactic of asymmetric warfare, developed and popularized in the Arab world by the evil Yasser Arafat, and adopted by the Palestinians and particularly Hamas in their struggle to reverse the decision of 1948 and replace Israel by an Arab state.
Aid to Hamas, or any Palestinian Authority government that does not truly want to end this struggle, therefore finances these goals and the horrible means used to promote them.
De Soto seems quite honest as well as truly pro-peace. But he and others who insist on seeing the conflict through an ahistorical lens will continue to drive peace further away rather than bringing it closer.