U.N. chief urges Mideast rivals to overcome ‘skepticism’

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U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called on Israelis and Palestinians on Friday to overcome “deep skepticism” that he said risked thwarting efforts to reach a peace agreement.

“We must overcome the deep skepticism that comes from 20 years of stalemate,” Ban said at a meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

“I urge all parties to avoid actions that risk undermining the negotiations,” a statement quoted him as saying.

“Both sides need to sustain an environment conducive for the peace process to move forward,” he said speaking two days after peace talks resumed in Jerusalem.

Wednesday’s talks, the fruit of months of intensive U.S. diplomatic efforts to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table after a nearly three-year break, were overshadowed by a new row over Israeli settlement plans for the occupied territories.

In the run-up to the talks, Israel announces plans to build more than 2,000 new settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank, infuriating Palestinian officials.

Ban criticised the Israeli plans at a meeting with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Thursday.

The U.N. chief told reporters he was “deeply troubled by Israel’s continued settlement activity in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem.

“Settlement activity is deepening the Palestinian people’s mistrust in the seriousness on the Israeli side towards achieving peace.

“It will ultimately render a two-state solution impossible,” he warned.

Later on Friday, Ban was to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, and Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon.