Israel urged to consider freeze on building


THE UNITED Nations secretary general has urged Israel to implement another West Bank settlement freeze in an effort to breathe new life into the deadlocked Middle East peace process.

At a news conference in Jerusalem yesterday, after talks with prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Ban Ki-moon urged Israel to freeze construction as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians.

“We are at a critical moment for Israel and the region. I remain hopeful that the direct, frequent exchanges between the parties will continue.”

Israel implemented a partial building freeze for 10 months in 2010, but Mr Netanyahu indicated that this was a one-off gesture.

He has suggested that Israel may be willing to implement goodwill gestures but told Mr Ban that settlements must be part of the negotiations, not a precondition. Mr Netanyahu said the real cause of the conflict was the Palestinians’ refusal to recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

The UN chief also urged Israel to present to the Palestinians concrete proposals on borders and security, in line with the framework set by the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators, comprising the US, EU, Russia and the UN.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held five low-level talks in Jordan last month, with no breakthrough. Israel wants to continue the discussions but Palestinian officials have indicated that the contacts have run their course. The Arab League is expected to decide on the future of the Jordan talks at a meeting this weekend.

Mr Ban also discussed Iran’s nuclear ambitions with Israeli leaders, urging Teheran to prove that their nuclear programme was genuinely for peaceful purposes. He said that they had yet to convince the international community.