Ban Ki-moon: Settlements are illegal, hamper talks

UN Sec.-Gen. calls for end of rhetoric questioning two-state solution; says he's "very concerned at lack of progress towards peace."

Ban Ki-moon speaking 311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
Ban Ki-moon speaking 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Friday for a halt to "irresponsible rhetoric" that questions a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution and incites hatred and violence.
With a September target date looming for agreement on the outlines of a peace deal, the UN chief again called on Israel to freeze settlement construction on Palestinian land so negotiations can start.
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Ban said: “Settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law, contravene the Road Map obligations of Israel, undermine confidence, prejudge the outcome of the permanent status negotiations and hamper efforts at bringing the parties back to the negotiating table," AFP reported.
"We cannot afford to lose any further time," he stressed.
Ban said the Palestinians have the right to an independent state, Israel has a right to live in peace within secure borders, and a way must be found for Jerusalem to emerge as the capital of the two states "with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all."
"There is no place for irresponsible rhetoric that calls into question these fundamentals, seeks to delegitimize the other's heritage or incites hatred and violence," he told the opening meeting of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
Ban's speech reflected growing UN frustration with the stalemate in negotiations. The talks stalled just weeks after restarting last September because Israel lifted a moratorium on construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians hope to form a state that includes the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Palestinians have been drumming up international support for recognition of a Palestinian state as early as this fall. This week, they got 122 countries to co-sponsor a draft Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN observer, told the committee on Friday the number of co-sponsors will definitely increase "as an indication that the international community is determined that Israel has to comply with its obligation with regard to settlement activities."
The United States, which has been trying to revive the stalled peace talks, is against settlement expansion but has strongly opposed Security Council involvement.
Seeking an immediate vote on the resolution would put the administration of US President Barack Obama in a tough position of antagonizing most of the world, especially the Arabs, with a veto, or antagonizing Israel with an abstention.
Council members have said the Palestinians are likely to hold off until after the main Mideast mediators known as the Quartet — the US, the UN, the European Union and Russia — meet in Munich, Germany, on Feb. 5 to talk about the Mideast stalemate.
Mansour indicated that the Palestinians don't believe the US alone can get negotiations moving.
He said the Palestinians want the Quartet, "with the very active role of the United Nations," to take the lead and adopt decisions at next month's meeting "that could demonstrate a decisive, firm and clear leadership by the Quartet in the months ahead as we move ahead to complete a peace treaty between us and our neighbors, the Israelis, before September 2011."
"We know the international community is working very hard with us ... so that we can succeed this time," he said.
Mansour thanked the secretary-general for the "principled position" and "strong spirit" in his statement.
Ban said in his speech that the international community has gained "renewed confidence" in the past year at the Palestinians' ability to govern themselves, citing "major strides" in strengthening institutions and delivering improved governance, transparency, economic opportunity and security in areas it controls.
"I am encouraged by the World Bank's assessment that the Palestinian Authority is well positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future," the secretary-general said. "It deserves recognition as a dependable partner."