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Ban urges Israel to end settlements, other obstacles to peace with Palestinians

21 January 2010 – Israel’s settlement construction on occupied Palestinian territory, its annexation of East Jerusalem which remains part of that territory, and its blockade of Gaza are hindering Middle East peace efforts, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today, calling for the resumption of long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

“In the absence of talks, confidence between the parties has diminished,” he told a meeting in New York of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. “Tensions have risen in East Jerusalem. People in Gaza and southern Israel continue to suffer from violence. If we do not move forward on the political process soon, we risk sliding backwards.”

He voiced concern that despite Israel’s decision to restrain settlement construction in the West Bank, activity and financial support for expansion were continuing there and in East Jerusalem.

“Settlement construction violates international law and contravenes the Road Map, under which Israel is obliged to freeze all settlement activity, including the so-called ‘natural growth’,” he said, referring to the internationally endorsed plan for two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

“This is in no one’s interest, least of all Israel’s. Settlement activity undermines trust between the two parties, seems to pre-judge the outcome of the future permanent status negotiations, and imperils the basis for the two-State solution.”

In East Jerusalem Mr. Ban cited “a series of worrisome events [that] has not only stoked tensions in the city but also has the potential to endanger stability in the region,” such as Israel’s continued Israeli house demolitions, evictions and revocation of identity cards of Palestinians, and its plans to expand settlement infrastructure.

“It bears repeating that the international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, which remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory,” he said. “A way must be found, through negotiations, for Jerusalem to emerge as the capital of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all.”

Turning to Gaza, he noted that one year after the end of Israel’s three-week military offensive against Hamas, neither the issues that led to the conflict nor its aftermath have been fully addressed. Moreover, accountability for violations of international human rights law has not been adequately addressed, as called for by an independent UN mission that found that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants may have committed serious war crimes.

“I call on Israel and the relevant Palestinian authorities to conduct, without delay, credible domestic investigations into the many reported allegations of serious human rights violations,” Mr. Ban said.

Voicing “special concern” at the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza, he noted that the amount of humanitarian and other supplies allowed in was insufficient to meet the needs of the population or to enable urgently needed reconstruction.

“I repeat my call on Israel to end its unacceptable and counterproductive blockade and to fully respect international law,” he added. “I am also greatly concerned about those in southern Israel who have to live in fear of continuing Palestinian rocket and mortar fire from Gaza. I call for a complete end to violence and the targeting of Israeli civilians.” Israel cited the rocket attacks as the reason for its assault on Gaza.

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