UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday stood by his harsh criticism of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, but stressed that his words — which have been maligned by a battery of Israeli officials — under no circumstances amounted to a justification for terror attacks.
“In Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, 2016 has begun much as 2015 ended — with unacceptable levels of violence and a polarized public discourse,” Ban wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece.
“That polarization showed itself in the halls of the United Nations last week when I pointed out a simple truth: History proves that people will always resist occupation,” he said.
In a thinly veiled jab at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Tuesday accused the United Nations chief of “stoking terror,” Ban argued that he had been misrepresented by critics.
“Some sought to shoot the messenger — twisting my words into a misguided justification for violence,” the UN head wrote. “The stabbings, vehicle rammings and other attacks by Palestinians targeting Israeli civilians are reprehensible. So, too, are the incitement of violence and the glorification of killers.
“Nothing excuses terrorism. I condemn it categorically.”
Ban added, however, that it was “inconceivable” that violence would be curbed solely through heightened security measures.
“As I warned the Security Council last week, Palestinian frustration and grievances are growing under the weight of nearly a half-century of occupation,” he continued. “Ignoring this won’t make it disappear. No one can deny that the everyday reality of occupation provokes anger and despair, which are major drivers of violence and extremism and undermine any hope of a negotiated two-state solution.”
Ban further criticized Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as well as the demolition of illegal Palestinian homes.
“The [Israeli] government has approved plans for over 150 new homes in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Last month, 370 acres in the West Bank were declared ‘state land,’ a status that typically leads to exclusive Israeli settler use,” he said.
“At the same time, thousands of Palestinian homes in the West Bank risk demolition because of obstacles that may be legal on paper but are discriminatory in practice. Palestinians — especially young people — are losing hope over what seems a harsh, humiliating and endless occupation,” he said. “Israelis are also reeling from near-daily attacks and losing sight of the possibility of a comprehensive peace with the Palestinians.”
Ban said he “will always defend Israel’s right to exist,” as well as “the right of Palestinians to have a state of their own.” He added that the UN was committed to promoting peace and democratic values in the region, but stressed that it was damaging first and foremost to Israel to continue “lashing out” at those who have the Jewish state’s best interests in mind.
“Criticism of the United Nations — or attacks against me — comes with the territory,” the UN chief wrote. “But when heartfelt concerns about shortsighted or morally damaging policies emanate from so many sources, including Israel’s closest friends, it cannot be sustainable to keep lashing out at every well-intentioned critic.”
Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, was quick to respond to Ban’s New York Times piece, saying there was never a justification for terror. “There is no excuse for the murder of women in their homes in front of their children,” Danon said. “The Palestinian incitement machine produces terrorism, and the UN Secretary-General in his words creates legitimacy for terrorism.”
Danon asserted that Ban “chooses to ignore the reality of Israel, and instead of backing the Israeli fight against a wave of Palestinian terrorism, he backs the Palestinians who incite to terrorism.”
Ban sparked Israeli outrage last week when he said of Palestinian attacks, which that have killed more than 25 Israelis of the past four months, that it was “human nature to react to occupation.”
“There is no justification for terrorism,” Netanyahu said in response at the time. “The Palestinian terrorists don’t want to build a state; they want to destroy a state, and they say that proudly. They want to murder Jews everywhere and they state that proudly. They don’t murder for peace and they don’t murder for human rights.”
The UN has “lost its neutrality and its moral force, and these statements by the secretary-general do nothing to improve its situation,” he said in a furious video statement. Ban’s remarks, said Netanyahu, “stoke terror.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said the UN chief’s comments “harm the global fight against terror, which Israel is leading, and give legitimacy to those murderers to continue attacking.”
Other Israeli officials also rushed to condemn Ban.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.