In NYT Op-ed, UN Chief Tells Israel: I Didn't Justify Palestinians Violence

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 26 ordinary of the African Union Summit in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, on January 31, 2016.
The UN's Ban Ki-moon speaking in Addis Ababa on January 31, 2016. In a Times oped, he tried to clarify remarks that had sparked sharp Israeli responses.Credit: AP

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sparked a furor in Israel after suggesting last Tuesday that it is "human nature" to react to the occupation. In an effort to clarify his position, he published an oped in The New York Times on Sunday, pleading, “Don’t shoot the messenger, Israel.”

In Israel and the occupied territories, he wrote, “2016 has begun much as 2015 ended — with unacceptable levels of violence and a polarized public discourse.”

That polarization was palpable in the halls of the United Nations last week when he pointed out what is ostensibly a simple truth, he wrote: “History proves that people will always resist occupation.”

In his piece, Ban also related to the angry reactions his statement had evoked from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who accused the UN leader of giving “terrorism a tailwind”) and other Israeli government sources, noting, “Some sought to shoot the messenger — twisting my words into a misguided justification for violence.”

That is not the case, he said: Attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians are “reprehensible” – as are efforts to incite violence and the “glorification of killers.”

Terrorism cannot be excused, wrote Ban, but explained that security-related measures alone cannot stop the violence.

As he warned the UN Security Council in the address last week that sparked the sharp Israeli responses, Ban reiterated that ignoring the growing Palestinian frustration and grievances after almost 50 years of occupation won’t make them disappear. Decades of anger and despair are “major drivers of violence and extremism and undermine any hope of a negotiated two-state solution,” Ban wrote.

He also condemned Israel building in the settlements and the destruction of Palestinian homes, adding that they are holding up the peace process; the Palestinians, especially the young, are losing hope “over what seems a harsh, humiliating and endless occupation,” he wrote.

By their very nature, the United Nations and he himself are targets for criticism, Ban added, but when even Israel’s closest friends are demonstrating “heartfelt concerns about shortsighted or morally damaging policies," Israel can’t “keep lashing out at every well-intentioned critic.”

It is high time for both parties in the conflict, and the world, to accept that the status quo is untenable, Ban wrote in summary, stressing that sustaining the occupation indefinitely undermines the security and future of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Last week, addressing the Security Council, Ban called Israel’s construction in the settlements provocative and said it would only serve to increase the population of settlers, exacerbate tension and diminish the chance of reaching a diplomatic accord. He also condemned the recent rocket fire from the Gaza Strip to Israel and called for the Palestinian incitement to stop – yet he also seemed to understand it: “as oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation.”

Netanyahu promptly rebutted the remarks, accusing the UN secretary general of helping terrorism.

“Palestinian murderers do not want to build a country – they want to destroy a country, and say so openly,” the prime minister said. “They want to murder Jews wherever they may be, and say so openly. They do not murder for peace and they do not murder for human rights The UN has long lost its neutrality and moral power, these comments by the secretary general do little to improve its standing.”