United Nations - When Ban Ki-moon was asked about the scathing remarks by his former Middle East envoy denouncing the strongly partisan U.N. role in the ongoing peace talks, the U.N. secretary-general appeared more distressed with the public revelation of a confidential document than with the strong views articulated by his Under-Secretary-General Alvaro de Soto."It was unfortunate that the document was leaked to the press," Ban told reporters Wednesday.
On the eve of his retirement, and after 25 long years with the world body, the former Peruvian diplomat blasted the United Nations in a 52-page confidential report to the secretary-general, accusing the world body of undermining the goal of a Palestinian state.
"I would like to make it clear that this is his (de Soto's) personal view," the secretary-general said, apparently seeking an escape hatch.
Chris Toensing, editor of the Washington-based Middle East Report, was less sympathetic towards Ban, who has cultivated the fine art of evading answers to politically-sensitive questions fired off by reporters here.
"Bravo to Alvaro de Soto for committing his unvarnished views to paper," Toensing said.
"And shame on the secretary-general for disavowing the opinions of this distinguished international diplomat, indicating that he, like his predecessor (Kofi Annan), will sacrifice the independence of the United Nations to curry favour with Washington," he told IPS.
Nadia Hijab, a senior fellow and co-director at the Washington Office of the Institute for Palestine Studies, was equally critical of Ban and laudatory of de Soto.
"De Soto's report should be required reading for anyone working at the United Nations today or thinking of applying," she said.
"It sounds the alarm about what happens when the international organisation and its secretary general are forced to become subservient to the policies of world powers instead of being neutral among nations and the defender of international law," Hijab told IPS.
An Arab diplomat told IPS that historically the United Nations was never seen as an even-handed mediator in the Middle East, primarily because of its in-built bias generated under by U.S. pressure.
"Judging by the comments of the secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon is no better than his predecessors and will continue to peddle the same line," he added.
In a stinging rebuke to the United Nations, de Soto wrote: "The steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbour, Israel, have had precisely the opposite effect."
Pointing out that the one-state solution for Palestine-Israel is fast gaining ground, de Soto says that "the combination of (Palestinian Authority) institutional decline and Israeli settlement expansion is creating a growing conviction among Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, as well as some Jews on the far left in Israel, that the two-state solution's best days are behind it."
According to the report, which was first published in a London newspaper, both Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan provided political cover to the United States and the European Union (EU) in their efforts to marginalise Hamas despite its electoral victories in the occupied territories.
Annan was accused of "hampering" de Soto's efforts to maintain regular political contacts with Hamas leaders.
The former secretary-general was accused of playing ball with the United States: a charge that has also been made by several non-governmental organisations against the current secretary-general, who is beholden to Washington for his job.
De Soto has little or no faith in the Middle East Quartet -- a group comprising the United States, EU, the U.N. and Russia-- which is said to provide a political "shield" for the United States and the EU to bankrupt the Palestinian government.
"Even-handedness has been pummeled into submission," says de Soto, whose official title is U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.
At the same time, he criticised the Hamas leadership for continuing its advocacy of the destruction of Israel.
He describes the Quartet as a political "sideshow" and advises the United Nations to get out of the group.
"I would not agree with his point that the Quartet has become a kind of a sideshow," Ban said, responding to de Soto.
Toensing of the Middle East Report said: "De Soto's incendiary memorandum lifts the veil on the extent of George W. Bush administration's skullduggery in undermining both the Palestinian democratic process and burying prospects for peace in the region."
He said the memo demonstrates exactly why the intra-Palestinian fighting in Gaza is embedded deeply in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Specifically, the Bush administration and Israel actively pushed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Fatah elements into conflict with Hamas, he said.
"Most interesting, aside from de Soto's revelation that a U.S. official applauded an earlier round of Hamas-Fatah combat, is his conviction that Abbas himself always wanted to co-opt, rather than clash with, his Islamist rivals. Now -- thanks in great measure to the White House -- that strategic option is gone," Toensing added.
Hijab of the Institute for Palestine Studies said that as the world gazes in horror and bewilderment at the bloody intra-Palestinian power struggle, De Soto's timely report elucidates the reasons why the Palestinians are at this pass, particularly Washington's insistence on isolating Hamas after its election to government in January 2006.
"The U.S.-led international sanctions against the freely elected Palestinian Authority have ruined the economy and pushed the vast majority of Palestinians below the poverty line, and that these were not removed when Hamas and Fatah tried to come together in a unity government."
She said the United States also armed and trained elements of Fatah so that they could take on Hamas. "And it was unable or unwilling to hold Israel accountable for its obligations as an occupying power and for the agreements it signed," Hijab noted.
"This damning report by de Soto should be required reading for all U.S. policy makers because it explains why U.S. policy always boomerangs in the Middle East," she added.
© 2007 Inter Press Service