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UN chief urges Israel to halt settlements

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. (AP Photo/Uriel Sinai, Pool)

By Josef Federman | AP | Jerusalem | 03 Feb 2012

UN chief Ban Ki-moon pressed Israel on Wednesday to do more to get flagging Mideast peace efforts back on track, calling for a halt in West Bank settlement construction and urging the Israelis to submit concrete proposals on the key issues of borders and security ties with a future Palestine.

Ban is visiting Israel and the Palestinian areas on a mission to salvage the latest efforts to restart peace talks. A month of low-level discussions between Israel and the Palestinians ended last week without any breakthroughs, and it remains unclear whether they will resume the dialogue.

“We are at a critical moment for Israel and the region,” Ban said. “I remain hopeful that the direct, frequent exchanges between the parties with continue.”

Formal peace talks have been 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 — captured areas that the Palestinians want for their future state.

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.”

Netanyahu appeared to rebuff Ban’s request, saying the question of settlements “should be part of the final peace talks and final peace agreements.”

The Palestinians have demanded a halt in settlement construction before returning to the negotiating table. Last month’s low-level discussions, mediated by Jordan, ended without any Israeli commitment to freeze settlement building or progress on other issues, like proposed borders and security arrangements. The Palestinians have not yet decided whether to continue the talks.

The talks in Jordan were meant to clear the way for the resumption of full-fledged peace talks and a final peace agreement by the end of the year. They are taking place under the auspices of the international “Quartet” of Mideast mediators — the US, European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

The Quartet has asked both sides to promptly submit detailed proposals on borders and security. The Palestinians believe the deadline was on Jan. 26 and have already submitted their proposals. Israel believes the deadline is in April and has only submitted vague principles on border arrangements.

“I also hope that Israel will be forthcoming with its own concrete proposals on territory and security, as called for by the Quartet,” Ban said.

Responding to Ban’s comments, Netanyahu said he recognizes “there has to be an agreement, probably a painful agreement for us given our passion for these historic lands.” But he complained that “the real cause of this conflict” is the Palestinians refusal to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Israel has also accused the state-run Palestinian media of broadcasting hatred and incitement against Israel and the Jews.

Asked about the alleged incitement, Ban said: “Hate speeches or provocations, they are not helpful, they are not acceptable.”

Later Wednesday, Ban was headed to the West Bank for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and to visit the site of the first planned Palestinian city. Construction of the new city, called Rawabi, has been held up by Israeli security concerns about a planned access road.


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