UN chief “disappointed” at resumption of Israeli settlement activity

Monday, September 27, 2010

UN “disappointed” at Israeli settlement activity

UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded Israel on Monday that the building of settlements on occupied territory was illegal, and said he was “disappointed” by the government’s failure to extend its partial ban on further West Bank construction.

The expiry on Sunday of the Israeli construction restrictions has threatened to scuttle Mideast peace negotiations, just weeks after they were launched in early September with great fanfare at the White House.

Palestinians regard settlement building as a major obstacle to peacemaking and have threatened to walk out of negotiations if the building restarts after the moratorium officially expired at midnight Sunday.

Last week, the “Quartet” of Mideast peacemakers urged Israel to extend the moratorium.

A statement released by Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky said the secretary-general was “disappointed that no such decision has been taken and (is) concerned at provocative actions taking place on the ground.”

Ban reiterated that “settlement activity is illegal under international law,” and urged the Jewish state to fulfill its obligation to freeze further construction.

The Obama administration, which dispatched special Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell to the region in an urgent bid to salvage the stalled negotiations, used language similar to Ban’s.

“We are disappointed but we remain focused on our long-term objective and will be talking to the parties about the implications of the Israeli decision,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

Other ministers attending the session expressed frustration.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who presided over the Security Council, said for the negotiations to continue, both sides needed to show good intentions and the settlement activities were contrary to that.

“I remain very concerned that talks could falter on this issue and I call on Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Government to show leadership to resolve this so the parties can focus on the real challenges ahead,” said Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague.

During a meeting with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, Hague underlined “that the success of the direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians was in Israel’s long-term strategic interests.”

And French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he “deplored” Israel’s decision not to prolong the moratorium.

“Colonization must stop,” Kouchner said.

Lieberman, however, accused the Palestinians of seeking to undermine the negotiations, saying they had been forced into taking part by American pressure.

“We decided about the moratorium 10 months ago as a unilateral gesture of goodwill toward the Palestinians. During those 9 months the Palestinians wasted time and completely refused to accept this gesture and accused Israel that it’s a fraud, that it’s not serious,” he said.

“Today they exert pressure to (continue) the same moratorium that they previously rejected.”

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