Guterres in Jerusalem: The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres arrived in Israel yesterday for his first visit to the region. His first meeting was last night, as he arrived at the King David Hotel and met with Jason Greenblatt. Greenblatt stayed in Jerusalem over the weekend after his visit together with Jared Kushner last week. A senior Israeli official told Kafe Knesset that while Secretary Guterres “respects the US lead in the peace process and has no intention of replacing it, he wants to be involved in the process and help with whatever assistance he can.” The Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts are at the top of Guterres’s agenda for the trip, but Jerusalem has other plans and other burning issues to discuss. “The most pressing problem, the most important thing is Hezbollah and Syria,” PM Netanyahu told Guterres at the opening remarks of their meeting in the PMO. The PM raised Israeli discontent with the UNIFIL’s poor performance in south Lebanon (a cause which was recently embraced by the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, as well) and continuing the campaign against Iran’s growing presence in Syria. “Iran wished to use Syria and Lebanon as war fronts to achieve their declared goal of destroying Israel, and is building factories for precision guided missiles.” Later on, the Secretary General will be meeting Defense Minister Liberman and senior IDF officials to continue these discussions. Another popular issue on the table is the anti Israel bias and discrimination at the UN bodies, with both Netanyahu and President Rivlin raising the issue and openly wishing to open a new page under the rule of Guterres.
Guterres, for his part, seemed eager to cooperate and show that he is committed to changing Israel’s treatment at the UN. At the top of every meeting today, Guterres mentioned his moving visit to Yad Vashem this morning, and his clear steady support for Israel’s right to exist. “Calls to exterminate Israel are a modern version of anti-Semitism, and you can be sure that I am committed to Israel’s right to exist and its right to exist in peace and security,” he told the PM. Guterres also dedicated a lengthy portion of his comments to his dream of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Guterres, who used to be a close friend of former President Peres, recalled a secret meeting with Peres and former PA leader Yasser Arafat in his office when he was the Portuguese Prime Minister. “I have always had a dream to see two states in this Holy Land,” he told Netanyahu, urging him to launch a meaningful political process and “convince people that peace is worthwhile.”
Goldin vs. Liberman: Defense Minister Liberman sparked a major controversy when he responded to last week’s resignation of Attorney Lior Lotan, the Prime Minister’s POW MIA coordinator. Liberman spoke about changing the paradigm of trading masses of living Palestinian terrorists for one Israeli, dead or alive. The Goldin family, whose son Hadar has been held by Hamas since 2014 and presumed dead, held a press conference to criticize Liberman. The Goldins say that they do not advocate prisoner exchanges, but still think that Liberman is “weak and a coward” for not pressuring Hamas in other ways, like stopping visits to terrorists in prison. “We also think that Israel in the past has signed outrageous deals, but without putting pressure on Hamas, we will never reach the promised land,” Hadar’s father Simcha Goldin said. Hadar, and the second captive soldier in Gaza, Sgt. Oron Shaul, were killed in Operation Protective Edge in 2014. There are another two Israelis in Hamas captivity, Avraham “Abera” Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, both of whom have psychological disorders and entered Gaza on their own. Mengistu is an Ethiopian-Israeli, and al-Sayed is a Bedouin. In 2011, Israel released over 1,000 Palestinians in exchange for captive soldier Gilad Schalit. Liberman argues that seven Israelis have been murdered by Palestinians freed in the Schalit deal, and 202 have been re arrested for involvement in terrorism. He said that before Lotan is replaced, this must be taken into consideration. The Goldins called on all politicians to help them bring back their son, “Don’t turn Hadar the hero into a bargaining chip,” said Goldin. “Life is not something one can discuss in market terms. From day one we asked to change the equation and put pressure on Hamas.” Liberman responded to the Goldins and said he accepts their criticism with love and understanding, and that he is still personally committed to bringing back Hadar and Oron, and the other citizens that are being held in Gaza. However, Liberman stressed that Israel will not repeat the “mistake” of freeing masses of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for any Israeli citizen held in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, dead or alive. Liberman added that before replacing Lotan it was important to “draw clear lines for the State of Israel and its emissaries, and to especially stand firm against our enemies and make it clear to them that we have no intention of compromising on the security of the people of Israel.”