01 February '16..
United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon is more sensitive than we thought. The South Korean diplomat is apparently quite upset about criticisms that a speech he gave last week blaming Israel for the lack of peace in the Middle East and ascribing Palestinian violence to “human nature.” His point was to say that if Palestinians were lashing out it was an understandable if regrettable reaction to the injustice that Israelis were subjecting them to. But not satisfied with having blasted the Israelis during a special session of the UN Security Council on “the situation in the Middle East,” Ban took to the op-ed page of the New York Times to double down on his stand and to vent his hurt feelings about the willingness of some supporters of Israel to take exception to the notion that the “stabbing intifada” was a matter of “human nature” rather than the function of both deliberate incitement on the part of Palestinian leaders and an ideology that sees no room for compromise. According to Ban, he’s not only innocent of the charge of excusing terror but also merely a “messenger” that Israelis would do well to heed.
Ban has two purposes in the piece. One is to establish his bona fides as a fair broker in the dispute. He says that he unequivocally condemns terror and supports Israel’s right to exist. Moreover, he also throws in some language at the end that says Palestinians need to work on some of their own problems like the fact that they are divided between a Fatah-controlled West Bank and a Hamas-controlled Gaza. Ban also thinks that Palestinians should condemn violence and stop constructing terror tunnels along the border between Israel and Gaza.
Moreover, he says that his “human nature” comment was taken out of context and that by putting him down as rationalizing terror, Israelis are merely seeking to ignore their responsibility to promote peace and to stop oppressing the Palestinians. The tone of the piece is one of both hurt feelings and self-righteousness.
But as much as Ban wishes to be on record as an advocate for peace, that isn’t really the point. The outrage about his speech wasn’t a function of cherry-picking quotes or even directed at him personally. Even if we were to give him credit for good intentions, the reason why his speech deserves the most severe criticism goes deeper than one line — as offensive as it may be — and, instead, is rooted in a view of the conflict that is apparently impervious to reason or willing to take into account the evidence outlining the real reason for the ongoing violence.
Let’s concede that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is problematic. But what Ban conveniently fails to note is that it is a function of repeated Palestinian refusals of peace offers that would have ended the “occupation” that he denounces. In 2000, 2001, and 2008, the Palestinians turned down statehood in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Since they have refused to negotiate seriously with Israel despite being offered a similar pullback from the West Bank by a supposedly right-wing government that endorsed a two-state solution. Ban also knows that almost all of the building is going on in settlement blocs near the Israeli border or Jerusalem that would almost certainly remain part of Israel in the event of a peace treaty ever being signed.
Instead of accepting peace, the Palestinians have, as they did in 2000, embraced terrorism again in a new outbreak of violence over the past several months. That surge in terror was not the product of “frustration” with the occupation but a series of calculated lies about alleged Israeli threats to the Temple Mount mosques intended to stir up religious fervor and allow Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to compete with his Hamas rivals.
The point about this violence is that it is not aimed at a settlement freeze or a better border than the ones they’ve been offered before. Rather, it is rooted in opposition to the Jewish presence anywhere in the country. As studies of Palestinian opinion have shown, they oppose the right of Israelis to live in Tel Aviv as much as in hilltop West Bank settlements and think killing Jews is a laudable act deserving of honor; a sentiment that is reflected in PA praise of terror attacks.
But none of this is relevant to Ban, who continues to pretend that the Israelis can somehow solve this problem with territorial withdrawals. It’s not just that, like the rest of the international community, he refuses to recognize that this is disputed territory to which Israel has some claim too. Rather it is that he gives the Palestinians no agency for their actions.
The current stalemate is troublesome for both sides and especially the Palestinians who are stuck being governed by a corrupt kleptocracy that encourages violence in the West Bank and an Islamist terror movement in Gaza. They have genuine grievances that could potentially be addressed in negotiations aimed at coexistence and a two-state solution. But given the fact that not even a supposed moderate like Abbas can bring himself to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it is not reasonable to expect that Israeli concessions will do anything but perpetuate the conflict on less favorable terms. Indeed, given the results of Israel’s complete withdrawal from Gaza — which became a terrorist-run independent Palestinian state in all but name rather than a laboratory for peace — it’s not hard to understand why even the leader of Israel’s liberal opposition agrees with Prime Minister Netanyahu that a two-state solution is not possible for the foreseeable future.
Israel has made it clear again and again that it is ready for peace if a sea change in Palestinian political culture ever allows their leaders to embrace a chance for a permanent end to the conflict. Until then, it has no choice but to manage the situation as best it can. It is unfortunate, but that does mean the status quo will continue. But if it is untenable for Palestinians, they have no one but themselves to blame.
Whatever the ills of the current situation in the West Bank, it is not “human nature” that drives the Palestinians to terror. Rather it is their belief that they can eventually destroy Israel. By legitimizing that fantasy, albeit unwittingly, Ban has become part of the problem, not the solution. Instead of complaining about his critics, he needs to re-evaluate his assumptions.
That’s why criticisms of Ban’s rant about “human nature” were neither unfair nor out of bounds. By focusing primarily on Israel and treating the real obstacle to peace as an afterthought, he does more than distort the truth about the conflict. He is feeding a prejudiced view of the dispute and effectively giving Palestinians a pass for terrorism. That is something that he would not dare to do with regard to any other outbreak of terror against a UN-member state. Only Israel remains the object of such persistent bias. Under the circumstances, it is only reasonable for observers to conclude that he, like the rest of the UN bureaucracy, is infected by a double-standard that is rooted in anti-Semitism.
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