United Nations: Israel and the Palestinians struck a grim tone over their renewed peace talks at a Security Council debate, with both sides lashing out at each other over recent violence and the Palestinian envoy saying "tangible progress remains elusive."
UN Under Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman, however, was more optimistic, saying negotiations have "picked up the pace" since the quartet of Middle East peacemakers the United Nations, United States, Russia and the European Union met in September in New York for the first time in more than a year.
Feltman said the quartet envoys are now meeting every month to assess the progress.
Under heavy US pressure, the peace talks resumed in July after five years amid deep scepticism and low expectations from both sides. The negotiations are taking place in secrecy and neither side has given details on their content.
At the Security Council, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour and Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor gave no signs of budging on long-held stances that have obstructed peace prospects for decades.
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour accused Israel of taking advantage of the peace talks to step up its settlement building and to attempt "to ease international pressure in this regard."
"Despite the genuine efforts being exerted, tangible progress remains elusive and hopes are diminishing," Mansour said.
Prosor dismissed international criticism of settler activity, saying "the real obstacle" to peace is the Palestinians insistence on the right of return for millions of Palestinians refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel. Prosor called that demand "a euphemism for the destruction of the State of Israel and a major hurdle to peace."
Palestinians reluctantly returned to the negotiating table despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s refusal to end construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in 1967, for their state. Netanyahu has insisted the Palestinians recognise Israel as the homeland for the Jews, but the Palestinians say that demand would undercut the fate of refugees.