UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Sunday praised Israel for showing a “great love of humanity” in Haiti, even as he attacked its actions in Gaza, which he said caused “unacceptable suffering.”
He wrapped up his two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, with renewed calls for Israel to fully open the passages into the Strip and for Hamas to release St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit.
“This issue can and should be resolved now,” Ban said.
In Jerusalem, Ban met with Schalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, who gave him a copy of a story their son wrote as a child, which they have since published and translated into French.
“We are asking and trusting that you will do everything in your power for the immediate release of Gilad,” Noam and Aviva said.
On the eve of Ban’s visit – his third since becoming secretary-general on January 1, 2007 – Israel took a small step toward meeting his demand with respect to the Gaza crossings, when it agreed to ease its restriction on building material to allow for the construction of 150 homes in Khan Yunis, a flour mill, a sewage treatment plant and classrooms.
During a morning visit to Khan Yunis, Ban told members of its civil society that the measure was a “positive, welcome step,” but that “we need far, far more. This is like a drop in a bucket of water.”
He noted that since his previous visit to Gaza 15 months ago, little reconstruction work had been done to repair the damage caused by Operation Cast Lead.
“It is quite distressing for me to see all the damage,” Ban said.
He called on Israel to fully open its passages into Gaza, which have been closed to all but humanitarian aid since Hamas seized control of the Strip in 2007.
Ban attacked Israel’s closure policy, which he said was “wrong” and “not sustainable.” He added that “it causes unacceptable suffering of human beings and particularly to people and population in Gaza.”
In addition, he said, it “prevents legitimate commerce and encourages smuggling. It undercuts moderates and empowers extremists.”
People on both sides of the conflict should refrain from violence, said Ban, as he condemned both the Gazan rocket attacks and IDF actions, including its fatal shooting of two Palestinians in Iraq Burin near Nablus over the weekend.
“I urge all Gazans to choose the path of nonviolence, Palestinian unity and international legitimacy,” Ban said.
He lauded the “quiet courage” and “heroism” of the people who live in Gaza.
“My message to the people of Gaza is this: The United Nations will stand with you and continue to support you so that you can overcome all this human suffering.”
Back in Jerusalem, however, Ban had positive words for Israel when he met with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to discuss Israel’s relief efforts in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake and its future participation in UN global humanitarian aid initiatives.
“I know that you have shown a great humanity, great love for humanity, by dispatching very generous, swift aid to Haitian people,” said Ban.
He also thanked Israel for its pledge to dispatch police forces and urged it in particular to consider sending female officers.
Ayalon told Ban that Israel wanted to increase its involvement in global relief efforts, and that the budget would increase once Israel joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
In his meetings on Sunday with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Ban spoke of regional issues such as the possibility for further UN sanctions against Iran, and issues relating to Lebanon and Syria.
He also spoke with Israeli and Palestinian leaders about the need to relaunch the peace process, starting with proximity talks and ending with direct negotiations.
Ban told Netanyahu, “You can count on me” to drum up support for talks.
He also told the prime minister that he planned to participate in the Arab League Summit meeting in Libya later this month.
“I will try to encourage the Arab leaders to support these proximity talks,” said Ban.
“This occupation must end. The quartet again has reaffirmed that the end goal of this final settlement of all the core issues should bring an end to occupation,” he said.
He struck a delicate balance between condemnation and affirmation during his visit.
On Monday, however, Israel is likely to be the brunt of a number of scathing attacks by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which is set to debate four resolutions regarding Israeli activity in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Among them is a call by the council to create a permanent committee to examine Israeli and Palestinian compliance with the Goldstone Report, which has called on both sides to conduct independent investigations into its human rights abuses in Gaza around the time of Operation Cast Lead in January of 2009.
The council is also expected to hear a report by UN High Commissioner
for Human Rights Navi Pillay, which chastises Israeli actions in the
On Monday, Noam and Aviva Schalit plan to address the council to
express their disappointment that neither Pillay nor the council has
focused on the continued captivity of their son when examining
compliance with the Goldstone Report. On Sunday night the Campaign to
Free Gilad Schalit plans to release a new video, which morphs the young
man’s face into that of IAF navigator Ron Arad, who was taken captive
in Lebanon in 1986 and disappeared in 1988.