/ 17 October 2014

Ban Ki-moon takes on Netanyahu

Israeli settlements in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Israel now intends to expand into east Jerusalem.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Israel now intends to expand into east Jerusalem.

The United Nations secretary general has strongly criticised Israeli settlement-building in a series of pointed remarks made in Jerusalem and Ramallah in which he challenged Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to show leadership and make compromises for peace.

Ban Ki-moon, who was on a two-day visit to the region earlier this week, also called for an end to provocations at Jerusalem’s holy sites, which have caused clashes in recent days.

Citing Israel’s recent announcement of new settlement construction plans for east Jerusalem, Ban condemned the plans as a “clear violation of international law”.

The relationship between Ban and Netanyahu has reportedly been difficult of late, with accounts of a terse exchange during a recent encounter in New York.

In a clear indication of his frustration over the issue of Israeli settlement-building Ban remarked: “Turning to a subject I am very sorry to have to raise yet again, I am very concerned about the recent announcement of plans to advance settlements in east Jerusalem, which are in clear violation of international law.

“This does not send the right signal and I urge the government of Israel to reverse these activities.”

The Jerusalem municipality announced two weeks ago that it had approved plans for the construction of about 2 500 homes in Givat HaMatos, a development that would complete a band of Jewish housing in east Jerusalem and present another obstacle to the Palestinian goal of establishing a capital in the area. That land was captured by Israel in the 1967 war.

‘Repeated provocations’
Turning to the issue of recent clashes on Temple Mount, Ban said he was “deeply concerned by repeated provocations at the holy sites in Jerusalem. These only inflame tensions and must stop.”

Ban urged Netanyahu to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Netanyahu asked Ban to halt unilateral Palestinian moves at the UN towards statehood and criticised UN officials for returning rockets found in UN schools during the summer war to Hamas.

“A real peace can only be achieved through bilateral negotiations,” Netanyahu told Ban during a meeting in Jerusalem. “I believe that unilateral steps by Palestinians at the United Nations will not advance peace. If the United Nations wants to support a genuine reconciliation, it must avoid any steps that could undermine peace.

“The root cause of this summer’s outburst of violence was Hamas’s rocketing of Israeli cities, and these rocket attacks often exploited UN neutrality, using UN facilities and UN schools as part of the Hamas machine of terror.

“And when rockets were discovered inside UN schools, some UN officials handed them back to Hamas – that very same Hamas that was rocketing Israeli cities and Israeli civilians.”

Meanwhile, Israel this week condemned a vote by British MPs in favour of recognising a Palestinian state as “undermining chances for peace”. Britain’s ambassador to Israel warned that the move reflected changing British public opinion.

The nonbinding vote, supported by 274 MPs with 12 voting against, follows a recent announcement by Sweden’s new government that it will recognise a Palestinian state.

The Swedish announcement and the Commons vote come against the background of unilateral moves by Palestinians at the UN security council to secure a resolution that would call for the end of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories by November 2016.

Israel’s foreign ministry was quick to issue a statement criticising the Swedish vote and insist that Palestinian statehood should come about only as a result of negotiations with Israel.

“Premature international recognition sends a troubling message to the Palestinian leadership that they can evade the tough choices that both sides have to make,” the ministry said in a statement. – © Guardian News & Media 2014