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UN chief: Israeli opposition to two-state solution ‘totally unacceptable’

António Guterres didn’t mention Benjamin Netanyahu by name, but he criticized the Israeli prime minister harshly in a speech in Uganda over the weekend.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres addresses World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 17, 2024. Credit: World Economic Forum.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres addresses World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 17, 2024. Credit: World Economic Forum.

Without mentioning Benjamin Netanyahu by name, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres took aim at the Israeli premier on Sunday.

On Shabbat, Netanyahu issued a statement suggesting that Israeli security needs are incompatible with Palestinian statehood. 

“The repeated refusal yesterday to accept the two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians is totally unacceptable,” Guterres said at the U.N. Third South Summit.

“The denial of the right to statehood for the Palestinian people would indefinitely prolong a conflict that has become a major threat to global peace and security, exacerbate polarization and embolden extremists everywhere,” he added.

After a conversation with U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday, and comments from Biden suggesting he might be able to convince Netanyahu to accept a Palestinian state under the right conditions, Netanyahu posted on social media on Saturday, “I will not compromise on full Israeli security control over all the territory west of Jordan—and this is contrary to a Palestinian state.”

Those comments did not sit well with Guterres, who was addressing the South Summit, the supreme decision-making body of the Group of 77, which consists of 135 developing countries and includes China. 

In the speech, which Guterres delivered in Kampala, Uganda, the Middle East was a major focus.

“In Gaza, Israel’s military operations have spread massive destruction and killed civilians on a scale unprecedented during my time as secretary general, including more than 150 members of our own staff, following the horrific terror attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7,” said Guterres. “The Middle East is a tinderbox. We must do all we can to prevent conflict igniting across the region.”

After chastising Netanyahu, Guterres made no mention of consistent polling suggesting that most Palestinians don’t favor a two-state solution, or that Hamas officials have repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction. 

After talking with Netanyahu on the phone on Friday for the first time in nearly a month, Biden told reporters that he thought Netanyahu could be persuaded to accept a two-state solution. 

“There are a number of types of two-state solutions,” he said. “There’s a number of countries that are members of the U.N. that are still—don’t have their own military. A number of states that have limitations, and so I think there’s ways in which this can work.”

But a day later, Netanyahu’s office issued a rare Shabbat statement.

“In his conversation with President Biden, Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated his policy that after Hamas is destroyed, Israel must retain security control over Gaza to ensure that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel,” he said, “a requirement that contradicts the demand for Palestinian sovereignty.”

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