United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres continued his visit to Israel Tuesday. Guterres met with PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah today, and is expected to visit the Gaza Strip tomorrow.
Arutz Sheva spoke about Guterres' visit with Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, who has accompanied the Secretary-General on his trip.
Danon was asked to compare the current visit to previous visits to Israel by UN Secretary-Generals. He noted that the atmosphere surrounding the visit was different this time due to the personality of the Secretary-General, who is the former Prime Minister of Portugal and is aware of the role of coalitions and the opposition in a democratic society.
"He is a different personality. It is easier to communicate with him. He met with various people, including the leaders and the families of the missing persons and POWs [held by Hamas]."
"His empathy was visible and the subject was painful for him," Danon said. He noted, however, that this does not make the Secretary-General automatically sympathetic to Israel and that he still is pressured from multiple sources to take an anti-Israel line. However, Danon has no doubt that the visit will help Israel in the future by making Guterres more familiar with the issues and the region.
On the Secretary-General's remarks that Israel must understand that not all criticism of it stems from anti-Semitism, Danon says that "we have no problem with criticism. We are used to criticizing and being criticized. The problem is the double standards and the obsession [with demonizing Israel], which is unacceptable to us. And the Secretary-General understands this. He understood from his conversations here that Israel was an island of stability. We presented a security review with very interesting intelligence materials. He understands that we are in a very problematic region and yet succeed in thriving."
On the security issue, the visit focused on two borders - northern and southern. At the northern border Danon explained to Guterres the failure of UNIFIL to fulfill its mandate to disarm Hezbollah in Lebanon. "The issue of UNIFIL arose following a tour I had two months ago with US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. When she saw the Hezbollah positions, the UNIFIL commander arrived and said there was no Hezbollah presence. An argument ensued between us, and as a result, she began to energetically pursue that matter at the UN."
As for the upcoming moves on this issue, Danon noted that "by the end of August, UNIFIL's mandate must be changed to make this force more efficient, so that they will be present there and report on Hezbollah's activities and not close their eyes." He further noted that the UN Security Council is scheduled to vote about the future functioning of the force. "Some countries say that there is no need to change, and we, along with the US, say that the situation can not remain the same. The UN Secretary-General understands that we will not agree to have a UNIFIL force of 10,000 soldiers sit and do nothing."
Danon then spoke about Guterres' meeting with the families of the Israeli soldiers and civilians illegally held captive by the Hamas terrorist organization.
"I felt that the subject was close to his heart and he understood the distress of the families," Danon said. "The UN Secretary-General does not have power to do much, but the position does command respect and he can talk to leaders in the Arab world. He doesn't talk with Hamas members but with representatives of UN schools."
He further noted that Guterres has heard about the issue of the Hamas captives from many people on his visit to Israel, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, and opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog. "He understands that this issue is a problem not only for the families, but for the entire State of Israel."
Danon was asked whether visiting Gaza would be dangerous for the Secretary-General without meeting with Hamas leaders. He replied that Guterres was making the correct decision in not meeting with Hamas leaders, and that he is not the first UN Secretary-General to do so.
"They (Hamas) understand that the nations of the world consider them to be a terrorist organization, and that is how it should be."