UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Palestinian and Israeli leaders on Tuesday to halt “unilateral initiatives” that fuel mistrust and thwart peace efforts, an appeal almost certainly aimed at Israel’s continued settlement building and the Palestinians’ demand that Israel withdraw from its territory by November 2016.
Ban challenged the leaders to rise to the occasion and display the “courage and vision” needed to overcome their differences and negotiate a comprehensive peace agreement that leads to the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state.
But the UN chief told the UN Security Council that there is no hope for long-term stability without an end to Israel’s occupation “that has grinded on for nearly half a century,” a full lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, and measures to address Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
Ban’s address, following his recent trip to the region, was harshly critical of the massive destruction to Gaza inflicted by Israel during this summer’s 50-day conflict, saying it “has left deep questions about proportionality and the need for accountability.”
The secretary-general noted he had visited a UN school that was hit by IDF shells during the conflict, resulting in Palestinian deaths and injuries.
“I look forward to a thorough investigation by the Israeli Defense Forces of this and other incidents in which UN facilities sustained hits and many innocent people were killed,” Ban said. “I am planning to move forward with an independent Board of Inquiry to look into the most serious of those cases, as well as instances in which weaponry was found on UN premises.”
However, Ban also condemned Hamas for its rocket-fire at Israel that he called “unacceptable.”
“Israelis also suffered during the conflict,” he said. “I traveled to a kibbutz where I met the grieving family of a four-year-old child named Daniel who was killed by a Hamas rocket — another innocent victim of this mindless conflict. As I said in Gaza, firing rockets is unacceptable, and the rockets have brought nothing but suffering.”
The secretary-general didn’t mention the draft Security Council resolution the Palestinians are pursuing to end Israel’s occupation in two years, but he called Israel’s settlement activity illegal and urged the government to reverse plans for new construction.
Ban also expressed deep concern at Israel’s “unilateral actions, restrictions and provocations at the holy sites in Jerusalem” and at mounting attacks by Israeli settlers. He said Israeli plans to relocate some 7,000 Palestinian Bedouins, who are mainly refugees, from the central West Bank, if carried out forcibly, would violate international law.
US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power echoed Ban’s call for leadership and compromise, saying negotiations are the only way to a two-state solution and urging both sides to refrain from “actions that may be politically popular with domestic constituencies but that come at the expense of advancing the cause of peace.”
She singled out “unilateral steps at the United Nations, Israeli settlement activity and provocations” at the Jerusalem holy site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, where Palestinian demonstrators have recently clashed with Israeli forces over what Palestinians see as Jewish encroachment on the site.
The deep polarization between the Israelis and Palestinians was clearly evident in the speeches by their UN representatives.
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said the Palestinians can’t return “to the same cycle of failed negotiations” which he said Israel uses to entrench its occupation, He urged international support for the resolution setting a deadline for a complete Israeli withdrawal.
Mansour also urged the Security Council to visit Gaza, stressing the centrality of the UN in pursuing an end to the conflict and “the imperative of salvaging the prospects of Palestinian-Israeli peace.”
Israel’s deputy ambassador David Roet disputed that settlements are a root cause of conflict with the Palestinians and insisted that Israel is not occupying Gaza.
He said the greatest danger today is “the poisonous ideology of extremists” and the real root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are Hamas, the Palestinian group committed to the destruction of Israel whose forces control Gaza, and “unilateral steps” by the Palestinians including “anti-Israel incitement” by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.