End the settlements, Ban Ki-moon tells Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu

New York – In meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged Israel to halt the construction settlements in the occupied West Bank and to make gestures of goodwill toward the Palestinians, according to The New York Times.

The statement came as hopes for progress in peace negotiations remained dimmer than ever. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said a week ago that talks with Israel had ended fruitlessly.

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During a visit Ban hopes will revive the process, he reportedly said he hoped last month’s exploratory talks could be resumed.

He was quoted by The Associated Press as saying: "We are at a critical moment for Israel and the region […] I remain hopeful that the direct, frequent exchanges between the parties with continue."

“Israel’s cooperation in creating a positive dynamic is vital,” Mr. Ban told reporters after a meeting with President Shimon Peres, according to The Times. The newspaper said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told his Cabinet on Sunday that the chances of a resumption were “not particularly good.”

The day before Ban’s arrival today occurred a day after Netanyahu declared victory in a primary race for the leadership of the conservative Likud party, according to The Jerusalem Post http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=255962.

“This is the moment to display further leadership to ensure that negotiations continue,” TheTimes quoted Ban as telling Netanyahu at a joint news conference.

Netanyahu said however that the question of settlements was for the end of negotiations and “cannot be a precondition” for them.

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The Times cited a statement from Netanyahu’s office which reportedly said the Israeli premier had spoken with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday and told her Israel was interested in continuing talks but would safeguard national security interests.

Palestinian negotiators have demanded a freeze on settlement building and Israeli acceptance of borders that were internationally recognized before 1967, when Israel annexed the West Bank and Gaza strip during a war.

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