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UN head: Netanyahu won’t answer my phone calls

António Guterres says that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dodged his efforts to reach out since Oct. 7 ... and some controversial statements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations in New York City on Sept. 20, 2023. Credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations in New York City on Sept. 20, 2023. Credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO.

António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday from Davos, Switzerland, that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declined to take his phone calls since Hamas terrorists attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

Guterres told the Doha, Qatar-based broadcaster that he has “asked to speak to Prime Minister Netanyahu and until now, that phone call has not been received.” 

The secretary-general added that he has “been talking to other people, and I can tell you we are working with Israel based on the interest of the Israeli people and the interest of the Palestinian people, and nothing will make us move away from that principle.”

Guterres drew the ire of Israeli officials on Oct. 24 when he told the U.N. Security Council, “It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.” He added that “the Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.”

“Mr. Secretary-General, in what world do you live?” Eli Cohen, the Israeli foreign minister, told the Security Council in a rebuttal. “Definitely, this is not our world.”

Cohen, who was at the United Nations at the time, canceled a meeting with Guterres scheduled for that afternoon.

Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum also chided Guterres at the time.

Continues to call for an ‘immediate humanitarian ceasefire’

On Thursday, Stephane Dujarric, Guterres’s spokeswoman, told reporters that her boss knew that Netanyahu had received the messages when Guterres called.

“The fact that they haven’t called hasn’t stopped the secretary-general [from] engaging, and his staff [from] engaging with a wide array of Israeli officials, whether it’s the president, whether it’s the permanent representative here, whether it was [the] minister of defense,” she said.

Guterres appears to have a relatively open line to Israeli President Isaac Herzog. The U.N. head’s office has insisted multiple times that ground-level communication between U.N. staff and Israeli counterparts remains functioning.

Despite Guterres’s lack of a direct line with Netanyahu, the U.N. chief “remains determined to do whatever he can to have an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and to use this tragedy, for lack of a better word, and to turn it into an opportunity,” Dujarric said.

Guterres has come under fire from many Israeli civil society groups and U.S. Jewish organizations that believe that the United Nations has shown little to no empathy for the victims of Hamas’s assault. The groups also charge that the international body has not done enough to help free the remaining 136 hostages Hamas terrorists continue to hold in Gaza and have shown a proclivity to reflexively blame Israel for the predicament of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu and Biden have reportedly not spoken in weeks. The last White House readout of a call between the two was Dec. 23, which concluded: “They agreed to remain in regular consultation both directly and through their respective national security teams.”

Biden ended that Dec. 23 call abruptly, saying “This conversation is over,” Axios reported in late December.

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