Posted by Joshua on Thursday, June 14th, 2007
The Guardian reports on the manipulation of UN policies dealing with Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank. It rests on a highly confidential report by Alvaro de Soto, the UN’s Middle East envoy, which the Guardian secured. They posted the report on their website here.
T_Desco has kindly pulled out all the paragraphs concerning Syria from the 54 page report in the last comment section.
In short, de Soto explains that he was denied permission to visit Syria or speak with Syrians, although this is not official UN policy. He was also denied important information on Lebanon and Syria from other UN offices. He argues that Syria is correct to see the UN as a partial agency whose good offices are manipulated by the US ("by the bidding of one or two permanent members of the Council"). This makes a mockery of international law and the purpose of the UN, he argues.
Does anyone seriously believe that a genuine process between Israel and the Palestinians can progress without Syria being either on board or, at the very least, not opposing it, and without opening some channel for addressing Syria’s grievances? If this should be attempted, we can be sure that a reminder of the Syrian capacity to spoil it wouldn’t be long in arriving.
T_Desco writes: Here are the paragraphs concerning Syria (I hope I didn’t miss anything):
End of Mission Report, May 2007
Alvaro de Soto
As soon as I was appointed I sought to visit all my interlocutors in their capitals, but I was told by USG/DPA that I should consult before traveling to either Lebanon or Syria. …
Notwithstanding my strenuous efforts, of which there is plenty of evidence in the DPA cables file, I was never authorized to go to Syria. None of my arguments in favour of going were ever refuted, nor was I given any precise reason for denial of the authorization requested.
99. There is an old saying that in the Middle East you can’t make war without Egypt and you can’t make peace without Syria. The first half is no longer valid, but I sense that the second remains true. For the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, keeping Syria at arm’s length is particularly galling. Those who advocate it seem to believe that it is possible to pursue an Israeli-Palestinian track while isolating Damascus. I know that that is the thinking; it has been made perfectly clear by the US Envoy, who reported to his Quartet colleagues that, in discussing the Arab initiative with the “Arab Quartet”, they put to them whether the Arabs would be prepared to reciprocate if Israel reached an agreement only with the Palestinians – as opposed to the comprehensive withdrawal from all occupied territory (including the Syrian Golan provided for in the Beirut agreement of 2002 as the requirement for gaining normalization with Arab countries). The Arab Quartet, we were told, had replied in the affirmative.
100. I am gobsmacked. If indeed they did reply in the affirmative, it must be because of a desire to tell their interlocutors what they want to hear. Such an approach would be highly divisive amongst the Arabs, and it could seriously undermine that Arab unity which is behind the Arab initiative and is one of its main attributes. I don’t believe they can seriously believe that it is possible to neatly compartmentalize the various fronts and deal with them sequentially, bestowing the favour of attention on well-behaving parties first.
101. In much the same way, does anyone seriously believe that a genuine process between Israel and the Palestinians can progress without Syria being either on board or, at the very least, not opposing it, and without opening some channel for addressing Syria’s grievances? If this should be attempted, we can be sure that a reminder of the Syrian capacity to spoil it wouldn’t be long in arriving.
102. The conventional wisdom is that Israel can’t handle more than one negotiation at a time. As recently as 27 April, in a piece in Haaretz titled “Why Syria must wait”, an Israeli ambassador wrote: “Few would dispute the assertion that the Israeli bridge is incapable of supporting two peace processes, a Syrian and a Palestinian one, at the same time.” I understand the political difficulties involved. But I believe it’s just not possible to completely disaggregate the two, or calmly wait for their turn with the occupier (take a number and have a seat in the waiting room until you are called, please), and that is why the Madrid conference was conceived as it was. This can’t be anything but one more layer of excuses not to negotiate. I note further that the Winograd Committee has criticized the Israeli establishment for its lukewarm attitude to trying to make peace with Syria (and Lebanon). Its interim report notes that Israel believed it enjoyed military superiority over its neighbours, and that, “given this analysis, there was no need to prepare for war, nor was there a need to energetically seek paths to stable and long-term agreements with our neighbours“. In the wake of the report, Olmert has declared that he will implement the Winograd recommendations and has mobilized the Cabinet energetically toward that end. There is, of course, an element of staying in power, but a key point to watch is whether implementation of the recommendations will include a change toward Syria and whether the US will allow it.
103. While, as I say, no one ever gave me a cogent reason why I should have shunned Damascus for two years, I sometimes hear on the grapevine the idea that, since the main business with Syria related to its role in Lebanon, and in particular the implementation of SCRs 1559 and, lately, 1701, it would be distracting if anyone from the UN were to talk to Syria about anything else. Let me record that, in two years, I received not one report of the meetings or work of the Special Envoy for SCR 1559, even though I was informed that he regularly received the material I shared with HQ, and I was aware that he had certain contacts with the Syrian government (as well as the Palestinian and Israeli ones, of course – which I usually learned about from them rather than the UN). He had a narrow and confined mandate. I had a broad and over-arching one. Were the UN’s house in order, EOSG and DPA would have ensured that the envoy charged with taking a broad view would have been kept fully abreast of the work of the one working on a narrower front. And it would not have been at all difficult for a well-briefed Special Coordinator, when in Damascus, to ensure that there were no crossed wires, and that nothing he said or did undermined the need to make progress on other fronts, or the vital work of colleagues.
104. Given my constant efforts, opposed by HQ, to ensure that the UN had a good channel to Syria on the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is ironic that on the eve of my departure, the US Secretary of State is meeting the Foreign Minister of Syria, and members of the Quartet are meeting Syria as one of the members of the follow-up committee of the Arab League Initiative, in Sharm el-Sheikh. The UN played little or no role in bringing this about, but I devoutly hope that we will no longer isolate Syria and ensure that whoever deals with the MEPP for the UN maintains a dialogue and relationship with Damascus. Sadly, I wouldn’t augur him/her a privileged relationship. Since we went along with the ostracism docilely when they were out in the cold, we are likely seen not as impartial good officers, but as fair-weather friends.
112. Similarly, there is no Security Council resolution prohibiting contact with the Government of Syria. Syria’s territory remains occupied in contravention of international law and Security Council resolutions, and the Security Council advocates a comprehensive settlement to the Middle East conflict – that between Israel and its neighbours – thus making an end to the occupation of Syrian territory part and parcel of such a comprehensive settlement. Given all these circumstances, the Syrian government, in light of the truncation of the exercise of the terms of reference of the UN “Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process”, might be forgiven for wondering whether the Secretary-General’s policy is inspired not by international law including Security Council resolutions but by the bidding of one or two permanent members of the Council. (Indeed, I wonder whether we have failed in our duty to the Council in briefing them every month on the conflict without ever consulting a key State party to it whose territory happens to be occupied.)
113. It almost goes without saying that the impression that both the PA government and that of Syria will have gathered – even though they might tell us the contrary – is not one favourable to their viewing the UN as a trusted interlocutor.
133. Israeli rejectionism extends also to Syria on which, echoing the US, Olmert has taken the position that Syria knows what it must do to prove that it is an acceptable negotiating partner, and insists on compliance, prior to any contact or negotiation, with goals that might be achieved precisely as a result of negotiations. Much is made of the fact that visitors to Syria have returned empty-handed. I wonder, do they seriously believe that Syria is going to give up negotiating cards outside of the framework of a negotiation – gratis? If I believed that, I would be insulting their intelligence. Powell’s quote (”You can’t negotiate when you tell the other side, ‘ Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start’“; §131) applies here as well, in spades. The Israelis wouldn’t do it – why would the Syrians?
The highest ranking UN official in Israel has warned that American pressure has “pummelled into submission” the UN’s role as an impartial Middle East negotiator in a damning confidential report. The 53-page “End of Mission Report” by Alvaro de Soto, the UN’s Middle East envoy, obtained by the Guardian, presents a devastating account of failed diplomacy and condemns the sweeping boycott of the Palestinian government. It is dated May 5 this year, just before Mr de Soto stepped down.
The revelations from inside the UN come after another day of escalating violence in Gaza, when at least 26 Palestinians were killed after Hamas fighters launched a major assault. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the rival Fatah group, warned he was facing an attempted coup.
Mr. de Soto condemns Israel for setting unachievable preconditions for talks and the Palestinians for their violence. Western-led peace negotiations have become largely irrelevant, he says.