Israel has stepped up its attacks against United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. Israeli leaders had already called for his resignation in October after Guterres stated that the Hamas attacks — which left some 1,200 people dead and 240 kidnapped — “did not happen in a vacuum,” but rather after 56 years of “suffocating” Israeli military occupation. Now, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has gone on to call Guterres a “danger to world peace.” Cohen’s statements come in response to Guterres having taken the unprecedented step of invoking Article 99 of the U.N. Charter — not used since the 1989 Lebanon crisis — to try to force a ceasefire in the Gaza strip. In doing so, the Secretary-General cited the “appalling human suffering, physical destruction and collective trauma” the war has caused.
“Guterres’ tenure is a danger to world peace,” Cohen wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “His request to activate Article 99 and the call for a ceasefire in Gaza constitutes support of the Hamas terrorist organization and an endorsement of the murder of the elderly, the abduction of babies and the rape of women. Anyone who supports world peace must support the liberation of Gaza from Hamas,” he added.
The country’s ambassador to the U.N., Gilad Erdan — who was embroiled in controversy in October for wearing a yellow star like the one the Nazis forced Jews to wear — has accused Guterres of having reached “a new moral low.” “The Secretary-General decided to activate this rare clause only when it allows him to put pressure on Israel, which is fighting the Nazi Hamas terrorists. This is more proof of the Secretary-General’s moral distortion and his bias against Israel,” Erdan wrote on X.
Erdan further criticized the Secretary-General for calling for a ceasefire: “Instead of the Secretary-General explicitly pointing to Hamas’ responsibility for the situation and calling on the terrorist leaders to turn themselves in and return the hostages, thus ending the war, the Secretary-General chooses to continue playing into Hamas’ hands.” Following the recent week-long truce between Israel and Hamas and the exchange of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli captives, 138 hostages remain in Gaza.
Article 99 of the U.N. Charter allows the Secretary-General to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.” Rarely used, Article 99 is a significant tool in the context of international peace and security. It is one of the five articles in Chapter XV of the U.N. Charter that outline the functions of a Secretary-General. It transforms the “Secretary-General from a purely administrative official to one with explicit political responsibility,” as Dag Hammarskjöld, U.N. Secretary-General from 1953 to 1961, once defined it.
It is a direct appeal to the Security Council, where the veto system allows any of the five permanent members (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France) to block initiatives. This right of veto delayed for weeks the adoption of a binding resolution to create humanitarian corridors in Gaza. The U.N. General Assembly, in which all members are represented, then adopted by a majority an equivalent resolution, which in practice is no more than an appeal.
Guterres’ move comes as the Israeli army penetrates the city of Khan Younis, which for days has been the target of intense and constant bombardment. Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced further south to the city of Rafah, on the border with Egypt. A portion of these internally displaced Palestinians were already forced to leave their homes in northern Gaza weeks ago. At least 17,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began, Gaza’s Health Ministry announced Thursday.
Backed by Borrell and the Arab League
The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, has come out in defense of Guterres’ decision, calling for the support of EU members of the Security Council (in its current configuration, only France has veto power) and “like-minded partners.”
I ask the EU members of the UN Security Council and like-minded partners to support @UN Secretary General @AntonioGuterres’s call.— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) December 7, 2023
The #UNSC must act immediately to prevent a full collapse of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
The Arab League has also come out in support of Guterres. The United Arab Emirates — a member of the Arab League and a rotating member of the U.N. Security Council — is expected to present a draft resolution Friday that would act on the letter from Guterres by demanding an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The Secretary General of the Arab League, Ahmed Abulgheit, has expressed his support for Guterres’ move and considers that invoking such an exceptional tool reflects the gravity of the situation. “The Security Council must assume its responsibility after this repeated failure,” Abulgheit said.
Israel’s latest spat with Guterres comes at a time of particular tension with the United Nations. On Tuesday, Cohen announced that he will not renew the visa of Lynn Hastings, a veteran U.N. official who since has served as the organization’s humanitarian coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Her residence visa expires on December 20. “We will no longer be silent in the face of the bias of the UN!,” Cohen wrote on X. “Someone who did not condemn Hamas for the brutal massacre of 1,200 Israelis, for the kidnapping of babies and the elderly and for the horrific acts of abuse and rape, and for using the residents of Gaza as human shields, but instead condemns Israel, a democratic country that protects its citizens, cannot serve in the UN and cannot enter Israel!” The U.N., for its part, has stated that Hastings acted “independently, neutrally and impartially.”
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