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The U.N.’s Undiplomatic Diplomat

Donald Paneth Jun 29

By Donald Paneth

UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. – Discretion is the rule in the world of diplomacy.

Candor is rare.

That tradition was breached last week with reports in the Guardian and the Financial Times that the top U.N. diplomat in the Middle East, Alvaro de Soto, had blasted the United States’ pro-Israeli policy, assailed the Bush administration’s 18-month boycott of Hamas, and advised the United Nations to consider quitting the Quartet of Middle East negotiators.

De Soto, who resigned from his post in May, presented his views in a 52-page confidential report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

He accused the U.S. of using undue pressure to impose a one-sided pro-Israeli agenda on diplomacy in the Middle East. He stated that he had not been authorized by former Secretary- General Kofi Annan to maintain contacts with Hamas representatives.

He said that the consequences of the policy of the Quartet — the U.N., the U.S., European Union, and Russia — had been to “take all pressure off Israel. With all focus on the failings of Hamas, the Israeli settlement enterprise and barrier construction has continued unabated.”

“Absent a change in policy … the should take a long hard look at U.N. Middle East diplomacy … In particular the question of the U.N. role in the Quartet needs to be reviewed.”

De Soto condemned Israel for setting unachievable preconditions for talks and the Palestinians for their violence. Western-led peace negotiations had largely become irrelevant, he held.

The international boycott of the Palestinians, introduced after Hamas won elections in January 2006, was “at best short-sighted” and had had “devastating consequences” for the Palestinian people, he said.

He had opposed the boycott, which “effectively transformed the Quartet from a negotiation- promoting foursome … into a body that was all-but imposing sanctions on a freely elected government of a people under occupation.”