The highest ranking UN official in Israel has warned that American pressure has "pummelled into submission" the UN's role as an impartial Middle East negotiator in a damning confidential report.
The 53-page "End of Mission Report" by Alvaro de Soto, the UN's Middle East envoy, obtained by the Guardian, presents a devastating account of failed diplomacy and condemns the sweeping boycott of the Palestinian government. It is dated May 5 this year, just before Mr de Soto stepped down.
The revelations from inside the UN come after another day of escalating violence in Gaza, when at least 26 Palestinians were killed after Hamas fighters launched a major assault. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the rival Fatah group, warned he was facing an attempted coup.
Mr de Soto condemns Israel for setting unachievable preconditions for talks and the Palestinians for their violence. Western-led peace negotiations have become largely irrelevant, he says.
Mr de Soto is a Peruvian diplomat who worked for the UN for 25 years in El Salvador, Cyprus and Western Sahara. He says:
· The international boycott of the Palestinians, introduced after Hamas won elections last year, was "at best extremely short-sighted" and had "devastating consequences" for the Palestinian people
· Israel has adopted an "essentially rejectionist" stance towards the Palestinians
· The Quartet of Middle East negotiators - the US, the EU, Russia and the UN - has become a "side-show"
·The Palestinian record of stopping violence against Israel is "patchy at best, reprehensible at worst"
Mr de Soto acknowledges in the report that he is its sole author. It was meant only for senior UN officials, and its wording is far more critical than the public pronouncements of UN diplomats. Last night, Mr de Soto, who is in New York, told the Guardian: "It is a confidential document and not intended for publication."
In January last year, the Quartet called on the newly elected Hamas government to commit to non-violence, recognise Israel and accept previous agreements. When Hamas refused to sign up to the principles, the international community halted direct funding to the Palestinian government and Israel started to freeze the monthly tax revenues that it had agreed to pass to the Palestinians. Several hundred million dollars remain frozen.
Mr de Soto, who had opposed the boycott, said this position "effectively transformed the Quartet from a negotiation-promoting foursome guided by a common document [the road map for peace] into a body that was all-but imposing sanctions on a freely elected government of a people under occupation as well as setting unattainable preconditions for dialogue".
The EU said yesterday that there was an imminent risk of civil war if fighting went on, and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon urged support for Mr Abbas's efforts "to restore law and order".
In the heaviest day of fighting in Gaza for months, Hamas appeared to make its first concerted effort to seize power in Gaza. There was a wave of co-ordinated attacks, which appeared to overwhelm the larger but less effective Fatah force. "Decisiveness will be in the field," said Islam Shahwan, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing.
Fatah's central committee called an emergency meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank, and said it would suspend the activities of its ministers in the government. Fatah would pull out of the government if the fighting failed to stop, it said.
For the first time in several weeks, fighting spread to the West Bank when Fatah gunmen attacked a Hamas television studio in Ramallah and kidnapped a Hamas deputy cabinet minister from the city.
The day began with a rocket attack on the private house in Gaza of Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister and a Hamas leader. He was in the building but was not hurt. Fighting spread across Gaza City and within hours Hamas fighters issued warnings over loudspeakers calling on all Fatah security forces to pull out of their bases and return home. At about 2pm Hamas gunmen seized control of several small Fatah bases and one large base in northern Gaza, where there were heavy casualties when Hamas fighters fired mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at the compound.
Several Fatah officers complained that they had received no orders during the day. Mr Abbas tried calling for a truce, and later Fatah ordered its officers to fight back.
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