Robert Serry, the UN Special Envoy to the Middle East, appeared on BBC's Hard Talk, hosted by Stephen Sackur, last Monday. Serry's "wait and see" approach, shedding light on the relationship between Israel and the UN since Operation Cast Lead in January, again called the extent of the effectiveness of the UN into question.
Here are some remarkable extracts from the conversation:
The Confession of the Trust Problem between the United Nations and the State of Israel
S.S.: Robert Serry, welcome to Hard Talk. Would you accept that you have a problem? You are the UN’s envoy to the Middle East peace process, yet one party to the Middle East conflict, that is, Israel, does not trust the UN.
R.S.: I took the job; I knew it was not going to be an easy one. What you refer to is something which I think we have to resolve. And I do believe that Israel will look at peacekeeping operations. And the UN peacekeeping operation is one of the most successful.
S.S.: UN plays a role in various ways across the Middle East region. But would you accept that there is a fundamental problem of trust between Israel and the United Nations?
R.S.: Yes, I think we have a problem, and it is there to be resolved.
“Yes” to an Investigation but No Breakthrough:
S.S.: Do you believe that war crimes were committed? And a special panel created by the Human Rights Council must go to Gaza and Israel and do a detailed investigation of allegations these war crimes?
R.S.: Certainly. And the Goldstone mission is preparing to go.
S.S.: The Israelis will not let you into Gaza. What did they say; when you said the panel must be allowed in? What did they say?
R.S.: We have not yet received a final answer on that issue.
A Vague Answer to the Current Situation of Gazans:
S.S.: John Ging who runs the Relief Operation in Gaza Strip. I am quoting his words: “The level of access to humanitarian assistance in Gaza today is wholly and totally inadequate.” If the situation is current and if the Israelis are refusing to lift the blockade, to stop the situation being wholly and totally inadequate, does that constitute a violation of humanitarian law?
R.S.: You can not keep a population hostage, no matter how difficult a security situation Israel claims it finds itself in. We have had a war, and after the war, none of the underlying issues in Gaza have been resolved. The rocket fire, into the southern Israel, which is completely unacceptable, and the Secretary General has always called it for what it is, terror acts. But for the moment, there is a relative calm. Then we have the continued siege. There is enough food and medicine, but we cannot start the process of reconstruction four months after the conflict. Then you have Palestinian reconciliation. You have illicit smuggling of arms, and of course, Gilad Shalit. We had all these issues before, and we still have them. We desperately need a more positive situation for Gaza. The UN has been one of the first to go for that.
A Cold Shower:
S.S.: When I hear that long list, I wonder if you have one of the most frustrating jobs in the world. I can talk about a number of mission you have tried to undertake, and it seems that you have absolutely no leverage, no impact at all.
R.S.: I don’t think so.
S.S.: Can you point to where you have actually changed the situation on the ground in this conflict between Israel and the Palestinians?
R.S.: Come back to Gaza, we are making a difference. We are involved in the difficult situation between the Palestinian factions.
Did Someone Ask about Hamas?
S.S.: But you can not talk to Hamas, can you?
R.S.: I don’t talk to them myself.
S.S.: You do not to talk to Hamas, do you think you should?
R.S.: Let us take a step back.
S.S.: A direct question, should you be able to talking to Hamas, given your role as the UN Special Envoy?
S.R.: If Hamas would take the steps which and I needed to have a successful reconciliation – these are the real issues. If it would be like that, I would be the first to talk to them.
S.S.: Your predecessor has made it quite plain that he believes the UN, the players to the peace process, must engage with and involve Hamas. He said that isolating them has been a disaster.
S.R.: I agree with him there. Having a siege in Gaza leads nowhere. It is a policy which I do not support. We have the Quartet. We have the so called Quartet principles which mean that the Palestinian government needs to renounce violence. It needs to recognize Israel and abide by previous commitments. We are now at a very important moment if we are looking ahead. A renewed, serious attempt, led by the new administration of the United States.
S.S.: Here is what strikes me… The situation has changed. We have Barak Obama in the White House; a man who says he wants to reach out to those enemies who prepared to unclench their fists. We have George Mitchell who was involved in the process of making peace in Northern Ireland when the peacemakers had to talk to the IRA long before they put down their weapons and committed to the lasting peace. We also have the Americans in Iraq who worked with indeed armed men. In this 21st century of peacemaking, can you not accept that you will have to accept Hamas?
R.S.: I would be the first and happy to talk to Hamas if it indeed leads to some positive results.
“Give Time to Netanyahu”:
S.S.: You told there about a two-state solution. Those are words which Benjamin Netanyahu has steadfastly refused to use since he became the Israeli prime minister. Does that worry you?
R.S.: He will talk with President Obama…
S.S.: You have a Prime Minister who finds it very difficult to even to say the words two-state solution, which you say must be the very underpinning of any solution? Is that a problem?
R.S.: It could be a problem.
S.S.: It is a very big problem.
R.S.: We have a new government. The elected government is having its own policy review at the moment. We have to give time to complete that. They will then tell us where they stand.
“Wait & See” Part 1:
S.S.: If the Israelis refuse to cooperate with this UN Commission, what will relations be?
R.S.: Let’s wait and see.
“Wait & See” Part 2:
S.S.: Do you think the government led by Benjamin Netanyahu is going to stop the settlement expansion?
R.S.: Let’s wait and see.
S.S.: All right, let’s wait and see on that.
Sadly we can't embed a video here, but readers in the UK can watch the show on the BBC iPlayer.