UN Mideast line swayed by US, Israel — ex-envoy

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) — A former UN Middle East envoy quit his job last month making bitter allegations that UN policy in the region had failed because it was subservient to US and Israeli interests, according to a leaked document.In a confidential end-of-mission report, seen by Reuters, Alvaro de Soto poured scorn on the Quartet negotiating group of the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations, and suggested the world body should pull out.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday the report represented De Soto’s personal views and disputed his former envoy’s conclusion that the Quartet had become a “sideshow.”

De Soto, a Peruvian diplomat who formerly worked on El Salvador, Cyprus and the Western Sahara, spent two years on the Middle East before resigning in May, ending a 25-year UN career. He was replaced by Briton Michael Williams.

His scathing 53-page farewell, addressed to a handful of top UN officials and first reported by Britain’s Guardian newspaper in Wednesday editions, made clear he left because he was frustrated that he was being ignored.

In the document dated May 5, he railed at restrictions he said were placed on him by UN headquarters against talking to the Hamas-led Palestinian government and to Syria.

De Soto condemned economic sanctions imposed by Israel, the United States and the EU on Hamas after it won Palestinian elections last year and said their effective endorsement by the Quartet had had “devastating consequences” for Palestinians.

“The steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbour Israel have had precisely the opposite effect,” he wrote.

“Evenhandedness has been pummelled into submission in an unprecedented way since the beginning of 2007.” Speaking to reporters, Ban regretted that De Soto’s report had leaked out, but said: “I’d like to make it clear that this is his personal view. I would not agree with his point that the Quartet has been kind of some side-show.” He said the grouping had been “reenergised” and noted that at its next meeting, in Egypt later this month, it would meet Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian, Saudi Arabian, Jordanian, Qatari, Syrian and Arab League officials.

De Soto sharply criticised the Islamist Hamas movement for advocating Israel’s destruction, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a foe of Hamas, for weak leadership, and the Palestinian failure to halt attacks on Israeli civilians.

But he also charged that Israeli policies seemed “perversely designed to encourage the continued action by Palestinian fighters.” De Soto blasted what he called “the tendency that exists among US policymakers… to cower before any hint of Israeli displeasure and to pander shamelessly before Israeli-linked audiences”. But much of his criticism was aimed at the United Nations, where, he said, “a premium is put on good relations with the US and improving the UN’s relationship with Israel.” “I don’t honestly think the UN does Israel any favours at all by not speaking frankly to it about its failings regarding the peace process,” De Soto said.

He said Ban should “seriously reconsider” continued UN membership in the Quartet, which he said had become “pretty much a group of friends of the US.” De Soto said he regretted that his advice to UN headquarters had gone unheeded. “I concluded that my uphill effort was not going to succeed,” he said.

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