UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon took to the New York Times yesterday to clarify his January 26th statement against Israeli policy in the West Bank. Likely sensing a threat to the UN's legitimacy as a mediator, Ban urges Israel's supporters not to "shoot the messenger" in reacting to the piece. Some have expressed frustrations over Ban's comments for singling out Israel's settlement policy as motivating terrorism - even though he also criticized the Palestinian leadership's authoritarian tendencies and incitement to violence.
The Israeli government's tactical response to Ban's comments focused on documenting another case of anti-Israel bias at the UN. Prime Minister Netanyahu accused the organization of losing its "neutrality and moral force" and "stoking terror." Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said the comments give "legitimacy to those murders to continue attacking," while UN ambassador Danny Danon flat-out accused Ban of "encouraging terror."
The causes of Palestinian terrorism are certainly more complex than Ban Ki-Moon represents in his editorial. But the Israeli government's response to Ban's comments are illustrative of its lack of strategic foresight.
The current Israeli government is pursuing a foreign policy of unapologetic confrontation. From publicly disagreeing with President Obama to sending settlement products as holiday gifts to disparaging the UN, Israel's policy line is: "The world is against us and it's time to call them out on it." The government drapes this policy in moral legitimacy and longstanding international bias against Israel, but tactically it still boils down to picking needless fights.
Ban's editorial, however, is the latest in a series of events that show that this policy is not working. Confrontation is weakening Israel's ability to operate in the international community by exacerbating its pariah status. Unfair treatment by the UN is harmful because pariah status limits Israel's ability to use a cooperative approach to its foreign policy. But confrontation makes Israel more of a pariah by breeding resentment. It exacerbates the very harm Israel should be seeking to reduce.
This policy of confrontation also lacks strategic vision. The moral legitimacy of Israel's position is irrelevant in a world that sees it as responsible for the oppression of 4.2 million Palestinians. Anti-Israel bias is unfair but a static condition of the international system for the foreseeable future. Israel has two choices - accept the bias or seek to change it over the course of decades. The likelihood that it will accomplish either by alienating the UN Secretary General is exceedingly low.
Israel's response to Ban shows that its current foreign policy is dangerously short-sighted. It is taking Ban's comments as more evidence of bias against Israel. It should instead take them as evidence of the damage its policies are doing to its political capital. By refusing to commit credibly to changing the status quo, Israel is alienating major global players. Attacks on its policy are no longer coming from just the Arab League or predictably post-colonial entities, but from major international institutions like the UN as well. Furthermore, the UN will continue to be a site for unilateral Palestinian action and Israel cannot afford to alienate its leadership. In this tough environment, Israel should strategically mitigate damage by keeping channels of cooperation open where it can.