x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UN chief urges Israel to stop West Bank settlements

Ban Ki-moon visiting country in bid to salvage peace talks.

JERUSALEM // The United Nations chief yesterday asked Israel to halt settlement construction in the West Bank as a way to restart Middle East peace efforts.

Ban Ki-moon told the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that settlements were "not helpful".

He urged Israel to refrain from further construction as a goodwill gesture, and pressed the country to present concrete proposals on borders and security to the Palestinians.

Mr Ban was visiting Israel and the Palestinian Territories in a bid to salvage the latest round of peace talks. Low-level discussions broke off last week, just weeks after their launch, over the settlement issue.

Mr Netanyahu said the question of settlements should be part of "final peace talks", not a precondition for restarting negotiations.

After meeting with Israel's president, Shimon Peres, Mr Ban stressed that Israeli action was crucial to keeping talks alive.

"Israel's cooperation in creating a positive dynamic is vital," he said. "I hope 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 discussions between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, sponsored by the peacemaking Quartet and held in Amman, ended without a deal to continue talks or return to direct negotiations.

The Palestinians say they cannot hold talks while Israel builds settlements. They want a framework for negotiations that would base border discussions on the lines that preceded the 1967 war.

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

In an interview in Amman late on Tuesday, Mr 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 favourable atmosphere", so that the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, could justify staying in talks, said the UN leader.

The UN, 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.

Mr Ban's schedule in Jerusalem included talks with Mr Peres, Mr Netanyahu and the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

He will then head to the West Bank town of Ramallah for meetings with Mr Abbas and the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Salam Fayyad.

He also planned to visit the Gaza Strip.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse