Construction.Ban

Last week UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon created a modest ripple in the world of international diplomacy by using his pint-sized “bully pulpit” to chastise Israeli occupation and colonization policies as an egregious obstacle to that elusive concept fantasy known as peace in the Middle East.  Initially, in remarks to the Security Council, Secretary Ban limited himself to stating the obvious:

Progress towards peace requires a freeze of Israel’s settlement enterprise.  I am deeply troubled by reports that the Israeli Government has approved plans for over 150 new homes in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank … [and has declared] 370 acres in the West Bank, south of Jericho, as so-called “state land.”  … The Bedouin community, in particular, is paying a heavy price.  I call for an immediate end to Israeli plans to forcibly transfer Bedouin communities currently living within the occupied Palestinian territory in the Jerusalem area.

Predictably, Bibi Yahu and his minions rose to the bait, unleashing a torrent of furious invective that (among other things) accused Ban of inciting Palestinian attacks on Israeli citizens.  Undeterred, SG Ban remained on the high road, and chose to respond through an op-ed essay in the New Jork Times –thus directly addressing Israel’s supporters in the United States through their propaganda vehicle of choice.  The medium itself was part of the message :

Polarization showed itself in the halls of the United Nations last week when 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.  But when heartfelt concerns about shortsighted or morally damaging policies emanate from so many sources, including Israel’s closest friends, it cannot be sustainable to keep lashing out at every well-intentioned critic. … The time has come for Israelis, Palestinians and the international community to read the writing on the wall: The status quo is untenable.  Keeping another people under indefinite occupation undermines the security and the future of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Et cetera, so forth, and so on.  On the surface, these statements from SG Ban might well be cynically read as yet another instance of empty words from someone with no real power to actually effect meaningful change in an increasingly dire situation. As long as the United States is obliged to back up Israel during a presidential election year, zionist zealots cannot be restrained and Palestinians are doomed to suffer ever-intensifying oppression.  But there are two aspects of Ban’s remarks that I find interesting and worthy of further reflection.

First, the NYT op-ed piece reads as though it was written by (United States Ambassador to the United Nations) Samantha Power rather than by Ban himself.  It has the flavor, tone, rhythm and style of an American writer of English addressing an American readership –more so than would an essay composed by a Korean yangban fluent in the English language as well as his own.  Sure, there are plenty of Americans working in the UN Secretariat as Ban’s subordinates who could have done the job, but I like the idea that Ambassador Power wrote it herself –to send a message– and that the Israelis know it.  Speaking truth to power, so to speak.

Samantha_Power

Second, let’s reflect on why SG Ban might have been willing to pick a fight with Israel at this particular juncture.  Let’s recall that Ban’s second term as UN Secretary General expires at the end of this year … and that the Republic of Korea will be electing its next president in 2017.  The Saenuri (New Frontier) Party currently holds the presidency and legislative majority in Korea, and last year floated Ban’s name as a potential presidential candidate for 2017.

In order to win a presidential election in Korea (or anywhere else), enormous amounts of money must be spent to “rent” the local and regional powerbrokers who get out the vote on election day.  In Korea (as in the United States) that money comes from the wealthy –the giant family-owned industrial conglomerates (chaebol) that dominate the Korean economy (Hyundai, Samsung, LG, etc.).  The chaebol essentially own Saenuri, much as the Koch brothers own the GOP in the United States.  And where do the chaebol get a significant proportion of their revenue?  I’m glad you asked.

Ulsan

Although China, the United States and Europe are important markets for Korean automobiles and electronics, chaebol subsidiaries in the shipbuilding and heavy construction industries are deeply dependent on customers in the Middle East: specifically, the Gulf states and Arabian peninsula.  Kuwait. Iraq. Qatar. Saudi Arabia. Bahrain. United Arab Emirates.  And now, Iran too.  In Korea, as elsewhere, the customer is always right.  So maybe, just maybe, Candidate Ban is lining up future campaign contributors for a run at the Cheong Wa Dae next year.  After all, if the Saudis are willing to give a $681 million “gift” to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, surely a future President of Korea deserves a little something for his retirement years.

 

However …

None of this imaginative and fanciful speculation should detract from the fundamental truth of Secretary Ban’s stern admonishment:  Israel’s apartheid colonization policies must cease.  Of course, without regime change this is impossible: these are policies which function primarily to enrich Netanyahu’s cronies while securing his political base.  Thus Israelis have inexorably condemned themselves to close confinement in a ghetto of their own making.  Next year, in Jerusalem (and elsewhere).

 

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