Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 1 February 2016
[Note: Ali Abunimah will be a keynote speaker at the 2016 NZ Conference on Palestine, Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber on Sunday 3 April. Ed]
The mouse finally roared.
Or so some thought, when last week UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon diagnosed the root cause of the current Palestinian youth uprising in the occupied West Bank.
“As oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation,” Ban said in a 26 January statement to the Security Council.
“After nearly 50 years of occupation,” Ban added the following day, “Palestinians are losing hope.”
“They are angered by the stifling policies of the occupation. They are frustrated by the strictures on their daily lives. They watch as Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, expand and expand,” he said.
All of this was couched in “even-handed” language: Ban strongly condemned violence by Palestinians, but merely expressed “concern” about “clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.”
He said nothing about Israel’s policy of extrajudicial executions of Palestinians that has claimed dozens of lives since October.
Ban restricted himself to describing Israel’s occupation and decrying its impact on Palestinians and the prospects for the fabled “two-state solution,” but did not pass any moral or legal judgment on Israel’s actions.
Still, his criticism, limited though it was, did contain some undeniable truths. But even that was too much for Israel to take.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the secretary-general of “encouraging terror.”
Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League, one of the most powerful Israel lobby groups in the US, demanded that Ban “clarify” his comments “which appeared to justify the current wave of Palestinian terror.”
Ban complied. In a New York Times op-ed today, he insisted that “I pointed out a simple truth: History proves that people will always resist occupation.”
“Some sought to shoot the messenger – twisting my words into a misguided justification for violence,” he continued apologetically.
“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,” the UN secretary-general said. “Nothing excuses terrorism. I condemn it categorically.”
Fair enough. But we must wonder why Ban cannot find any space in his column to “condemn” any of Israel’s actions, including its mass killing of Palestinians in Gaza.
Nor does he condemn Israel’s glorification of mass murderers and the relentless incitement against Palestinians by Israeli leaders. (This incitement has even extended overseas, with Sweden now investigating potential Israeli death threats against its foreign minister.)
The reason is that the “incitement” and “glorification of terror” Ban is talking about are distractions. These are Israeli government talking points that he is dutifully spouting to show that he knows what is expected of him.
Nor did Ban make any fuss when Makarim Wibisono, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, resigned recently because of Israel’s obstruction of his mission.
When he is not echoing the Israeli government, Ban’s column – and his speeches last week – borrow the tone and substance of US liberal Zionism: advice coming from an anguished friend who loves Israel and is concerned about its future.
“I will always stand up to those who challenge Israel’s right to exist, just as I will always defend the right of Palestinians to have a state of their own,” Ban wrote in the Times.
This not only creates a glaring false equivalence – no state has an abstract “right to exist” – but erases all substantive Palestinian rights.
Ban’s emphasis on salvaging the so-called two-state solution stems not from a concern for ending Israeli criminality and restoring usurped rights – those should be his priorities as head of the UN.
Rather, like the US liberal Zionists who are applauding him, the aim is to restrict the concept of Palestinian rights to “statehood” – in a truncated bantustan that guarantees Israel’s continued existence as a racist Jewish state.
However, the rights of Palestinians that are violated by Israel are not merely the “right” to statehood, but the rights to self-determination, full equality and return in all of historic Palestine.
These rights encompass the whole of the Palestinian people, in present-day Israel, in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and in the diaspora.
This is why liberal Zionists and international apparatchiks like Ban are so fearful of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).
The BDS call makes clear that the aim of Palestinians is to restore all their rights, not just create a mini-state.
Whether there is a one-state solution or a two-state solution, these rights cannot be extinguished and Israel cannot continue to violate them.
Ban’s timidity has been no surprise: his complicity with Israel is legend.
Last June, he caved in to pressure from Israel and the United States and took the Israeli military off a UN list of serious violators of children’s rights.
And at the height of Israel’s summer 2014 attack on Gaza, 129 organizations and distinguished individuals wrote to the secretary-general, condemning him for “your biased statements, your failure to act, and the inappropriate justification of Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law, which amount to war crimes.”
Ban’s record, they said, made him a “partner” in Israel’s crimes.
There is still little reason to change that assessment: while his latest comments are a slight improvement, Ban still utterly fails to demand that Israel be held accountable.
Instead, he offers tired exhortations to return to a completely failed “peace process,” and proposes closer collaboration between the occupation forces and the Palestinian Authority.
In the Times, Ban urged Israel to “stop lashing out at every well-intentioned critic.” Instead of hoping vainly for that, he should learn the lesson that no matter how timid one’s criticism, Israel will come back at any critic with all guns blazing.
Just as Ban has been accused of “encouraging terror” with his mild remarks, EU officials were likened to Nazis for their belated and pathetically minimalist decision last year to accurately label Israeli settlement goods.
Since the price is the same, why not just cut the “diplomatic” obfuscation and tell the whole truth?
It is a sign of how pliant the UN’s top officers have become to US and Israeli diktats that Ban’s otherwise unremarkable comments about occupation should have made headlines at all.