Facing pressure over ‘bias,’ UN chief lands in Israel
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Facing pressure over ‘bias,’ UN chief lands in Israel

António Guterres to meet Israeli and Palestinian officials in quest for 'long overdue peaceful resolution to the conflict'

Israel Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon (l) and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, upon his arrival in Israel, on August 27, 2017. (Shlomi Amsalem)
Israel Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon (l) and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, upon his arrival in Israel, on August 27, 2017. (Shlomi Amsalem)

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres arrived in Israel on Sunday night for his first visit to the country since taking the helm at the UN in January.

Guterres is in Israel for a three-day stay that will include meetings with senior Israeli officials in Jerusalem and Palestinian officials in the West Bank, as well as a stop in the Gaza Strip, where the UN runs a major Palestinian aid program.

Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN head, said that the purpose of his trip was “to engage directly with Israeli and Palestinian people and their leaders” about “finding a long overdue peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon greeted Guterres on his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, telling him, “We look forward to showing you our country, an island of stability and prosperity in a tumultuous region.”

Guterres is to visit Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum on Monday morning and meet later in the day with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

On Sunday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely announced that Israel will discuss two key issues with the UN head during the visit: ending “anti-Israel bias” at the 193-nation organization, and changing the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL.

“We are seeking a dramatic change in the way the UN treats Israel. It’s time to place the issue squarely on the table and address it head-on,” Hotovely said, threatening funding cuts for the body if changes were not implemented.

The trip came with the UN Security Council debating renewing for a year the mandate of the UNIFIL peacekeepers, with a vote expected on August 30.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has blasted the commander of UNIFIL, accusing him of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah weapons smuggling.

Pointing to Haley’s comments, Hotovely said that “if the UN does not drastically change its behavior it will lose both support and funding” from Israel and other countries.

“It’s no longer just us threatening this,” she said. “The US position has changed. Led by Nikki Haley, they have made clear that they will not tolerate bias against us and will no longer be giving an open check.”

Guterres’s spokesman Dujarric has said in the past that the UN secretary general has “full confidence in (the commander’s) work.”

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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