New York: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday slammed Israel's refusal to halt settlement building in Palestinian territories and warned that time is running out to save Middle East peace talks.
With Palestinians now pressing for the UN Security Council to condemn the settlements, Ban said he was "very concerned at the lack of progress towards peace”.
Ban highlighted that the United Nations, European Union, United States and the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East had all criticised Israel's refusal to freeze its building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
"Settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law, contravene the Road Map obligations of Israel, undermine confidence, prejudge the outcome of the permanent status negotiations and hamper efforts at bringing the parties back to the negotiating table," he said.
The diplomatic Quartet -- the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia -- laid out the "roadmap" for peace which set a date of August this year for reaching a permanent Israel-Palestinian accord.
"We cannot afford to lose any further time," Ban said.
Ban told a UN General Assembly committee on the Palestinian conflict that the recent demolition of the historic Shepherd Hotel in east Jerusalem and other evictions of Palestinian families all "heightened tensions”.
The UN leader called for a new effort to bring the two sides back to talks on "achieving a historic agreement”.
The Quartet is to meet in Munich on February 05. Diplomats say the meeting's outcome will be critical in deciding whether the Palestinians pursue efforts to get Security Council condemnation of Israeli settlements, despite US strong opposition to the effort.
The Palestinians have refused to take part in US-brokered direct talks with Israel since late September when Israel refused to extend a moratorium on settlement construction.
The United States traditionally vetoes resolutions against Israel, but has not said what action it might take against this motion which was formally given to the 15 Security Council members on Tuesday.
Some 122 countries have co-sponsored the resolution.
While criticising Israel, Ban also highlighted the "legitimate right of Israel to exist in peace within secure and international recognised borders and to be fully integrated into the region."
The UN leader went from the Palestinian meeting to an encounter with survivors of the Nazi wartime concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
First Published: Saturday, January 22, 2011, 10:29