In an unsurprising move, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced on Tuesday the appointment of Sigrid Kaag, a Dutch politician and veteran UN diplomat, to head up the UN’s effort to deliver humanitarian relief into Gaza.
In a post on X, Kaag wrote that she is resigning her position as Netherlands’ Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to take on the role of UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza.
“Peace, security, and justice have always been my motivations,” Kaag said in her statement. “I have accepted this special assignment in the hope to contribute to a better future.”
The appointment takes effect on January 8.
Guterres has accused Israel’s military strategy in Gaza as “creating massive obstacles” to distributing humanitarian aid inside the Gaza Strip.
Kaag’s assignment will include accelerating the delivery of aid into Gaza and “facilitating, coordinating, monitoring, and verifying” the relief aid trucks do not carry non-humanitarian aid.
Israel has accused Hamas of hijacking aid inside Gaza, and using the humanitarians convoys to transport non-humanitarian aid.
The UN Security Council resolution this past week created the position in spite of the abstention of the US after days of negotiations and much consternation among UN diplomats.
“Israel’s right to exist and its right to defend itself is self-evident to us. But in these dark times, it is important that acts of war comply with international law and the humanitarian law of war in order to avoid innocent civilian victims and enable adequate humanitarian aid to be provided in time,” Kaag stated in a speech last month.
"It is difficult to find the right words to describe my horror at the terror, and the intense suffering on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. Any death, any person wounded is one too many. What is happening in Israel, in Gaza and on the West Bank is deeply disturbing - raising doubts about humankind and about our own humanity," Kaag added.
Remembering Kristallnacht, exactly 85 years earlier when the Nazi "destroyed Jewish possession and murdered hundreds of innocent civilians," who were "driven from their homes and tens of thousands imprisoned in concentration camps," just "because they were Jewish," stated Kaag, "many are now still feeling or even reliving in the wake of the terror attack in Israel."
Kaag is not new to Palestinian matters. She previously worked as a senior official at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Israel has also criticized the UNRWA for facilitating hatred towards the Jewish community and being hijacked by Hamas inside the Gaza Strip.
Kaag later served as an Assistant Secretary‑General with the United Nations Development Programme and, from 2015 to 2017, as the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon.
Kaag is very familiar with the Middle East, speaks Arabic, and previously has served as the UN Envoy, who negotiated with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria over chemical weapons.
President Barack Obama at that time considered her effort an "important achievement."
“The almost impossible deadlines,” meant “we couldn’t waste a second,” Kaag stated during a 2014 Harvard interview. “We were on message, on mission, looking for results that you can measure.”
Although Kaag has had her fans praise her diplomatic ventures, she has had her critics as well.
She resigned as the Dutch Foreign Minister after only a few months in September 2021 after a majority of the Dutch parliament believed she had mishandled the evacuation of Kabul that summer after the Taliban seized control of the country.
Kaag supports Ukraine in its war with Russia and and has worked on climate change policy.
In a public statement, she expressed a desire to depart from politics presenting almost a thin-skinned reaction to criticism.
“It becomes a battery of so-called slurs that are meant to demonize you, to deconstruct you,” she said at a Council on Foreign Relations event in September. “It erodes the value of our democracy if this persists and is condoned.
Not surprisingly, after months of US Secretary Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden calling for Israel to basically lean into caution with Israel’s ground invasion to take out Hamas’ leadership as the war has progressed, the U.S.’s UN Ambassador responded to Kaan’s appointment.
“Look forward to working closely with @SigridKaag in this new role – and to supporting her efforts to streamline and accelerate the UN’s life-saving work in Gaza. There is no time to lose,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield wrote on X.
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