U.N. chief seeks new Israeli-Palestinian talks

The United Nations considers Israel’s construction in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem to be a violation of international law. (Reuters)

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday called on Israel to create a “positive dynamic” to help kickstart stalled talks with the Palestinians, as he arrived in Jerusalem to urge a resumption of negotiations.

The U.N. chief is holding a series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinians in a bid to convince both sides to continue so-called exploratory talks they started last month.

After talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ban urged Israel to reach an agreement with the Palestinians by the end of the year, Israel’s army radio reported.

He also said he hoped to see Israel quickly submit proposals on territory and security requested of both sides by the Quartet.

Earlier on Wednesday, after meeting with Israel’s President Shimon Peres, Ban stressed that Israeli action was crucial to keeping the exploratory talks alive.

“Israel’s cooperation in creating a positive dynamic is vital,” he said.

“I hope that these talks can be sustained. I talked with President Peres about ways in which the UN and the international community might support their talks.”

The five rounds of talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, sponsored by the peacemaking Quartet and held in Amman, ended without a deal to continue discussions or return to direct negotiations.

The Palestinians say they cannot hold talks while Israel builds settlements and they want a framework for negotiations that would base border discussions on the lines that preceded the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel says it wants talks without preconditions, but Ban said Tuesday it was key for the Jewish state to offer gestures, which could include concessions on the issue of settlement activity on Palestinian land.

In an interview with a small group of reporters, including AFP, in Amman late Tuesday, Ban said he expected “a gesture of goodwill by both sides.”

But it would be “more important for the Israelis to show such a gesture of goodwill to create the favorable atmosphere,” so Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas can justify staying in talks, the U.N. leader said.

Ban said he would definitely raise the issue of settlements, adding that restrictions on their construction “may be one of those gestures of goodwill.”

He said he would urge Palestinian president Abbas to return to talks.

The United Nations, a Quartet member along with the United States, European Union and Russia, considers Israel’s construction in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem to be a violation of international law.

Settlement construction “really hampers” reconciliation and “many Palestinian people have been really suffering from this,” Ban said, confirming he would discuss the issue with Netanyahu.

“There should be no surprise from the Israeli side,” he declared.

“I am going to urge Prime Minister Netanyahu to show some political will, courage and vision so that this long overdue vision of two states, where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in peace and security, can be realized.”

Ban’s schedule in Jerusalem includes talks with Peres, Netanyahu and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He will then head to the West Bank town of Ramallah for meetings with Abbas and Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad.

The trip, which will also include a stop in the Gaza Strip, comes amid a new stalemate in contacts between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Amman talks were part of a timeline by the Quartet to bring the two sides to the table for the first time since direct talks broke down in September 2010 over the issue of settlement construction.

The Quartet on Oct. 26 asked both sides to submit comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months as a precursor to the resumption of talks, something the Palestinians say they have done.

Israel says it considers the three-month period to have begun with the first rounds of talks in Amman on Jan. 3.

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