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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on Israel to offer “goodwill gestures” to Palestinians to get the deadlocked peace talks back on track.
After talks with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, Mr Ban said the Israeli government needed to co-operate in “creating a positive dynamic”.
A month of “exploratory talks” ended last week without any breakthroughs.
Negotiations on a two-state solution stalled in late 2010 after a dispute over Jewish settlement construction.
About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
They should refrain from further settlement for the sake of ongoing peace talks”
Ban Ki-moon UN Secretary General
Mr Ban is attending a series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an effort to persuade them to resume the exploratory talks.
The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators – the US, UN, EU and Russia – said last year that they expected both sides to use the talks to submit detailed proposals on borders and security arrangements, in the hope that the dialogue would encourage direct peace talks.
But last week Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said they had concluded without any progress.
He said the Palestinians had made proposals, but that the Israelis had not.
Israeli officials said they had submitted a document outlining areas to be discussed, but did not describe it as a proposal. They also insisted that the deadline for the proposals was in April.
“Israel’s co-operation in creating a positive dynamic is vital,” Mr Ban told reporters after meeting President Peres. “I hope that these talks can be sustained.”
“We are at a critical moment for Israel and the region.”
Mr Ban said the Israeli authorities’ support of continued settlement expansion did “not help the ongoing peace process”.
“They should refrain from further settlement [building] for the sake of ongoing peace talks. This can be a way of expressing goodwill gestures.”
The UN chief later held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said the question of settlements “should be part of the final peace talks”.
Mr Netanyahu nevertheless said he recognised that there had “to be an agreement, probably a painful agreement for us given our passion for these historic lands”.
But he complained the “real cause of this conflict” was the Palestinians’ refusal to recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.