Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman intends to kick out the UN’s top Jerusalem-based Middle East official for seeking to transfer tens of millions of dollars of funds to Hamas, Israeli television reported Saturday night.
Liberman will seek the approval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the move to expel the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, and have him declared persona non grata, Channel 2 said. The report added that Liberman would discuss the move, which could place Israel on a collision course with the world body, with officials at his ministry on Sunday. There was no immediate response from Serry, a Dutch diplomat who has held the post since 2007.
Liberman was reported to have long regarded Serry as biased against Israel, but the specific grounds for the foreign minister’s extraordinary move reportedly relate to ongoing efforts by the UN official to arrange the transfer of funding to Hamas in Gaza.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, and continues to rule there. It recently agreed on a process of reconciliation with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s rival Fatah faction, and backed a newly established PA government, but that process is collapsing because Hamas been accused by Israel of orchestrating the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers on June 12. Abbas has demanded that the youths be returned, and Hamas has castigated him as an Israeli stooge.
Serry has been seeking relentlessly to transfer funds to Hamas in Gaza, to the immense displeasure of Liberman, the TV report said. Israel, the US and others designate the Islamic extremist Hamas, which is formally committed to the destruction of Israel, as a terrorist organization.
Serry initially sought to arrange the transfer of $20 million to Hamas in Gaza, from Qatar, via Abbas’s PA, the TV report said, but he was rebuffed. He then asked Israel to facilitate the transfer, but was again rejected. Finally, he has reportedly been suggesting that the UN itself take the money from Qatar and then transfer it to Hamas in Gaza.
The TV report did not state why Serry had become personally involved in the issue, or what the money was intended for. Neither did it specify the timeframe of the matter. It said Liberman considered Serry’s actions to mark an effort to legitimize Hamas.
Liberman was also said to be dismayed by a statement issued by Serry on Friday that said the UN was “deeply concerned” over the IDF’s ongoing security operation in the West Bank aimed at locating the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers. The Israeli campaign has resulted in the deaths of three Palestinians and the injury of many more, Serry’s statement noted.
In comments that Liberman reportedly considered to lack balance, Serry said that while the UN acknowledged that tightened restrictions on movement throughout the West Bank were necessary as part of efforts to bring the youths home safely, the UN urged Israel to show restraint and carry out the operation in compliance with international law. The UN special coordinator further called on the Israeli government to respect the lives, dignity and livelihoods of Palestinians.
“The Special Coordinator is concerned that without restraint from all sides in these dramatic circumstances, it will become even more difficult to address an already critical security situation on the ground,” a press statement issued by Serry read.
“[Israel] should thus seek to minimize the impact of security operations on individuals who have committed no offense and investigate allegations of excessive use of force, including the killing of civilians.”
The UN official emphasized that the international body continues to call for the immediate release of the three Israeli teenagers.
Israeli forces have embarked on a massive campaign to locate the three kidnapped youths — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16 — while simultaneously destroying parts of the Hamas terror infrastructure in the West Bank.
Over the past week, thousands of Israeli troops have searched hundreds of locations in the West Bank and arrested over 350 Palestinians, many of them from Hamas.