Thursday, February 2, 2012

UN chief urges Israel to halt settlements

UN chief urges Israel to halt settlements

Israel must halt settlement building and present detailed proposals for a border with a future Palestinian state, visiting UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said.

Ban, tried to persuade the Palestinians to continue low-level meetings with Israel that the international community hopes will evolve into serious negotiations.

Ban 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.

At the same time, Ban urged the Palestinian leader not to let the current peace efforts lose momentum.

The dialogue on borders and security arrangements began last month at the urging of the Quartet of Mideast mediators, the US, UN, EU and Russia, which asked both sides to submit detailed proposals. The Quartet has said it wants a final deal by the end of the year.

Abbas has said the Jordanian-mediated exploratory meetings in Amman have run their course, but that he'll decide after consultations with the Arab League next week whether to resume them.

"I don't like the word 'closing the door to negotiations.'" Abbas said Wednesday.

"Israel did not present encouraging offers in the Amman talks, but if it does, we will be ready (to resume talks)."

Earlier on Tuesday, Ban met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has rejected Palestinian demands for a settlement freeze ahead of any full-fledged negotiations, arguing that this is an unacceptable precondition. Israel has said it wants to continue the exploratory talks.

"We are at a critical moment for Israel and the region," Ban said after his talks with Netanyahu. "I remain hopeful that the direct, frequent exchanges between the parties with continue."

Formal peace talks have stalled for more than three years, in large part over the settlement issue.

The Palestinians say there is no point in negotiating as long as Israel continues to settle its population in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas that the Palestinians want for their future state, along with the Gaza Strip.

Some 500,000 Israelis now live in these areas, and this week Netanyahu's government approved new financial incentives meant to lure more Israelis to the West Bank. Continued settlement "does not help the ongoing peace process," Ban said.

"They should refrain from further settlement for the sake of ongoing peace talks. This can be a way of expressing goodwill gestures."

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