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Israeli, PA envoys trade recriminations at Security Council

US envoy bashes UNSC for disproportionate focus on Israel, raps settler violence

Linda Thomas-Greenfield condemns Hamas for holding Israeli civilians, troops’ bodies, and urges Israel to probe settler attacks

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to the media in Ankara, Turkey, on June 4, 2021. (AP/Burhan Ozbilici)
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to the media in Ankara, Turkey, on June 4, 2021. (AP/Burhan Ozbilici)

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield used Tuesday’s monthly Security Council session on the Middle East to chastise the body for disproportionately focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also condemned recent violence by settlers against Palestinians, and urged Israel to investigate them.

“This council spends a great deal of time on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is both understandable and consistent with the agenda. But far too often, the substance of these discussions is centered almost entirely around criticism of Israel and counterattacks,” she said in her remarks.

“I sincerely hope that going forward, council members will do their best to take a more balanced approach. Also, there are other countries and situations in the region that merit Security Council attention and should not be neglected.”

The position is one that has long been held by successive American administrations, but was intensified during former US president Donald Trump’s time in office, when his ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, used the platform to regularly admonish members and accuse them of anti-Israel bias.

Thomas-Greenfield also used her speech to reiterate the Biden administration’s talking points regarding the conflict.

She stated that “humanitarian actors need regular, predictable, and sustained access to Gaza,” in an apparent criticism of Israel, which controls most of the crossings into the blockaded coastal enclave.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) meets with US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield in New York, on September 27, 2021. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

She urged countries to follow the Biden administration’s lead after it donated $318 million this year to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. Though she also called for the organization to “undertake the necessary reforms to ensure its financial sustainability,” amid accusations of corruption and anti-Israel bias.

Turning to Hamas, Thomas-Greenfield called on the Gaza ruling group to end its “cruel detention of two Israeli civilians,” Hisham al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu, along with the bodies of fallen soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

She also expressed deep concern with recent settler violence against Palestinians and their property, and called on the Israeli government to investigate the attacks, “including the response by Israeli security forces,” who have often been filmed standing idly by without intervening.

Israeli and Palestinian envoys trade barbs

Also addressing the Security Council were the non-member representatives from the Israeli and Palestinian missions to the UN.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan lambasted the Palestinian Authority over its payments to security prisoners during his remarks at the monthly Security Council session on the Middle East.

Turning to Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour, Erdan said, “Mr. Ambassador, are you not ashamed to come before the Security Council when your government is paying hundreds of millions of dollars to terrorists?”

While the PA defends these payments as akin to any country’s welfare system that provides stipends to those in prison, Ramallah says it is in talks with the Biden administration to reform the policy.

Erdan accused Mansour of hypocrisy for speaking to the Security Council about human rights “while your police forces are beating to death real civil society activists, such as Nizar Banat.”

“How can you claim to represent the Palestinian people when 80 percent of Palestinians are fed up with President Abbas?” Erdan continued, referencing recent polling that showed the vast majority of Palestinians want the PA president to resign.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan (left) addresses the Security Council, on October 19, 2021, as Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour sits to his right and US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield sits to his left. (Screenshot/United Nations TV)

Erdan also admonished the Security Council for creating “a false reality in which every Palestinian claim against Israel is the most urgent issue on the agenda, while the terror and destruction of Iran and its proxies throughout the region are almost an afterthought.”

Mansour said Israeli opposition to the two-state solution should not be allowed to determine whether the international community will act in order to bring about such a result. The Palestinian envoy noted that previous Israeli prime ministers who opposed Palestinian statehood were still able to be coaxed into entering peace talks.

“Thirty years ago, when the Madrid Peace Conference was held, it was not an expression of the will of the parties, it was the reflection of the strong will of the international community that left the parties with no option but to show up,” Mansour said. “The Conference was not successful in itself, but it generated a dynamic that allowed peace efforts to reach new heights and to achieve a breakthrough.”

In his remarks to the Security Council, Mansour added: “If anybody had assessed the chances of success when [Yitzhak] Shamir was prime minister, they would have thought that these efforts were doomed and therefore useless. The statements and political positions of Israeli prime ministers cannot be the decisive factor to determine if peace efforts have a chance of success.”

Current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett opposes a two-state solution and has said he will not meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, let alone sit down for negotiations with him. However, he leads a unity government that will see Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a proponent of two states, take the helm in November 2023.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (center) meets with Meretz ministers Nitzan Horowitz (center-left) and Issawi Frej (center-right), on October 3, 2021 (Meretz)

Lurching from crisis to crisis

Addressing the council toward the state of the session, UN Special Envoy for the Middle East Tor Wennesland warned that in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, “political stagnation is fueling tensions, instability and a deepening sense of hopelessness.”

He added that “we can no longer lurch from crisis to crisis. Our approach cannot be to address the current situation piecemeal — incident by incident, on a short-term day-to-day basis as stand-alone issues.”

As he does each month, Wennesland condemned settlement activity, evictions, demolitions and seizures of Palestinian property by Israel.

The UN envoy also called for “a broader package of parallel steps by the government of Israel, the PA and the international community” to “address key political, security and economic challenges that are preventing progress.”

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