The historic out-of-the-box peace deals negotiated by the Trump Administration between Israel and four Arab countries were largely done without the help of the United Nations. Indeed, it seemed that the UN was caught by surprise when last year’s agreements were announced. Observers will now watch to see what kind of role the U.N. plays in the peace process under a Biden administration.
David May, a research analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), foresees more U.N. and international involvement.
“I think there will be a desire by many players to reverse course and reinsert themselves in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” May said.
“After four years of Trump, the Palestinian leadership will be (or should be) eager to engage and cooperate with international stakeholders,” added May, “This could be a short window for renewed interest in the Palestinian cause which has receded to the back burner in recent years.”
Just this last weekend, the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the announcement from the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, that elections would be held for the first time in 15 years for the authority’s presidency and its parliament.
In December, the secretary-general appointed Tor Wennesland, a Norwegian diplomat, to be his new Mid-East envoy. Some detractors complain Wennesland’s experience as Norway’s former ambassador to the Palestinians puts him too close to the Palestinian camp.
Kelly Craft, the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. who was in Israel last month for meetings with the now-former U.N. Mid-East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and other Israeli leaders told Fox News that she hopes the new U.N. Mid-East envoy acts as fairly as his predecessor.
“As the next envoy of the secretary-general to the Quartet, it’s critical that Tor Wennesland continue Mladenov’s legacy of a true peacemaker. Like Mladenov, he should take advantage of the momentum of the Abraham Accords. It is helpful that Wennesland has extensive experience in the Middle East and worked on the historic Oslo Accords.”
The ambassador noted that while Wennesland “has been heavily involved in Palestinian affairs, including serving as Norway’s representative to the Palestinian Authority, he has not been an envoy to Israel, so it is critical that he accommodate Israeli and Palestinian concerns in equal measure.”
Asle Toje, a Norwegian foreign policy scholar and a member of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, told Fox News that he believes the Norwegian diplomat can succeed in his new role.
“Wennesland will be an important resource for the world community’s work for a two-state solution to the conflict. Wennesland is intimately aware of the finer nuances of Israeli and Palestinian agendas.”
Toje had no doubts that the envoy can work fairly with the two sides.
“I believe he is seen as even handed and deserving of the trust of the parties involved in the peace process. That is the main issue here. None of the parties will agree to an unfavorable deal. At the same time, the scope for a two-state solution has shrunk. Perhaps we could say that Wennesland represents the chance of a two-state solution when other forces are driving towards a one state solution,” he said.
An Israeli government official speaking on the condition of anonymity was not as confident and questioned the appointment.
“This role focuses on leading and coordinating U.N. efforts relating to the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians and requires an objective viewpoint. It would appear that this will be a challenge with his additional title of Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. His past roles also underscore this sentiment and indicate a biased stance in relation to the Israel-Palestinian issue.”
Anne Herzberg, Legal Advisor of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute, who frequently interacts with the U.N., noted, “Although constrained by the inherently anti-Israel U.N. system, Mladenov took a much more cooperative and fair approach than the previous Special Coordinators. I hope Mr. Wennesland will continue Mladenov’s efforts rather than return to the bias and counterproductive attitudes of his predecessors.”
Wennesland who started his new job this week will get to address the U.N. Security Council next week when it holds its quarterly debate on the situation in the Middle East.
The FDD’s May, who recently co-authored a report assessing National Security policy vis-à-vis Israel under the Trump, as well as looking ahead to the Biden administration had several recommendations for the incoming administration, and one was to keep a check on the anti-Israel bias of the U.N.
“Throughout Republican and Democratic administrations, the U.N. has remained antagonistic towards Israel,” stated May, “President-elect Joe Biden has signaled his commitment to rejoining U.N. bodies that have been extremely hostile towards Israel. The next administration should condition the United States’ re-entry and resumption of funds on serious reform within these agencies.”
An email seeking comment from the Palestinian Mission to the United Nations on Wennesland was not returned.