UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Israel, which is aimed at restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, got off on the wrong foot today. Or, to be more specific, it got off on the wrong shoes – dozens of which were pelted at Ban’s convoy by irate Palestinian protesters, along with sticks and stones, as he rode through Gaza. The UN chief is on his way to a national security conference in Herzliya, where he’s slated to give the keynote address tonight. The Jerusalem Post reports on the attack:
No one was injured during the hostile welcome and the vehicles, which entered the Hamas-ruled territory from southern Israel through the Erez crossing, pushed through the crowd and sped away. …
Many of those who protested as the UN convoy passed were family members of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. They hit the vehicles with signs bearing slogans accusing Ban of bias towards Israel and of refusing to meet the relatives of Palestinian prisoners.
The incident comes a day after Ban gave a pro-Palestinian speech in Ramallah, in which he praised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and condemned Israeli settlement building as a violation of international law that needs to be frozen immediately:
Ban on Wednesday praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for his leadership and publicly backed him on key issues, including the demand for a freeze of settlement building on occupied lands the Palestinians want for their state.
With Abbas by his side, the UN chief affirmed that “all Israeli settlements are contrary to international law and prejudice” the outcome of a final peace deal.
Jeremy Ruden, a spokesman for the Herzliya conference, said that “unprecendeted security measures [are] being taken upon [Ban's] arrival” at the event tonight.
The attack on Ban’s convoy, and the seven rockets fired into Israel from Gaza last night, underscore the absurdity of the notion that Israeli settlement building is the major obstacle to peace, as opposed to the lack of a stable negotiating partner on the Palestinian side. How can Israel agree to halt settlement expansion as a “goodwill gesture” with the Palestinian Authority, when this will do nothing to stop the rocket fire and impossible demands from Gaza?
Netanyahu has already reportedly rejected Ban’s request for a settlement freeze. But the UN chief is likely to raise the issue again during his speech tonight.
Full disclosure: I am visiting Herzliya on a press trip sponsored by the Emergency Committee for Israel, a pro-Israel advocacy organization.