Ban: Empower Palestinians who want peace

At Herzliya Conference, UN chief says Israel should not fear regional changes, but "embrace and help shape it."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 390 (R) (photo credit: Michael Buholzer / Reuters)
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 390 (R)
(photo credit: Michael Buholzer / Reuters)
Calling settlement construction “pointless provocations,” UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon on Thursday called on Israel to “think carefully about how to empower those on the other side who wish for peace.”
Ban, speaking at the closing session of the Herzliya Conference, said that “now is the moment for a demonstration of good will by both sides,” but then went on to only give specifics about what he expected Israel to do. Among his expectations was for Israel to end settlement construction and open Gaza to more construction materials.
Ban, who arrived Wednesday for two days of talks in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said that the creation of functioning and well-governing institutions in the PA was in Israel’s long term interest.
But, he said, these advances were at risk because the “politics is not keeping pace with the developments on the ground. Negotiations have bogged down. We see too many pointless provocations. Israel continues to erect settlements, some in the most sensitive areas for any future peace.”
Ban said that Israel and the Palestinians were running out of time to solve their conflict and ought to give “highest priority” to resuming stalled peace talks.
“Our highest priority must be to return to negotiations, not merely procedural talks but genuine and substantive negotiations to resolve the core issues,” Ban said. “I believe that time is running out.” Ban added.
He called on the Palestinians to address Israeli security concerns and for Israel to “engage seriously on territory.”
Ban, who traveled to Ramallah on Wednesday and Gaza on Thursday, said he had heard the Palestinian frustrations. He reiterated that he “strongly agrees” that the settlements are illegal and harming the viability of a future Palestinian state.
“It is not surprising,” he said, that “growing numbers of Palestinians see what is happening elsewhere in the region, and are coming to support popular non-violent actions. A Palestinian spring, some call it. They can also be expected to take their case for statehood to the United Nations.”
He called on both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, whom he met during his visit, to “rebuild the momentum that has been sadly and often needlessly lost” and engage in substantive, not only procedural, negotiations.
Turning to the Arab Spring, Ban took a light jab at those in Israel and elsewhere viewing the Arab Spring with concern, saying that the “best way to survive and thrive amid change, is to embrace it and help shape it.”
Some, he said, are concerned the transformations in the region “have moved the Middle East backward, not forward. Others fear new governments that will emerge unfriendly to Israel.” But, Ban said, “it pains me to hear such complaints.”
As the secretary-general of an organization dedicated to “promoting democracy, human rights and the worth of the individual,” Ban said it “is hard not to view the dramatic events of the past year as a fulfillment of our most noble aspirations.”
Ban said that “surely no one in the modern world would say that a repressive regime that grants no rights to its people, or seeks to limit them, is somehow preferable to democracy.”
He said that the “fallacy” that the Arab world is “somehow not ready for democracy” should be rejected, and called on the international community – including Israel – to “step up” and help “these new Arab countries as they try to respond to the needs and aspirations of their citizens.”
Reuters contributed to this report.