UN: Israeli-Palestinian deadlock will harm diplomacy in Middle East

UN: Israeli-Palestinian deadlock will harm diplomacy in Middle East

The deadlock in negotiations to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will harm efforts by the Middle East diplomatic quartet to realize a two-state solution this year, the UN said Wednesday, dpa reported.

A UN official reiterated opposition to the expansion of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the recent sharp increase in construction in Gilo, near Bethlehem, after Israel lifted a moratorium on settlement construction in September.

The quartet - comprised of the UN, the European Union, the United States and Russia - is scheduled to meet in Munich on February 5.

UN undersecretary general for political affairs, B Lynn Pascoe, said in an address to the UN Security Council that construction of new housing units "undermines trust and prejudices final status discussions."

   The quartet has called for reaching an Israeli-Palestinian framework agreement on several thorny issues like the final status of Jerusalem, refugees and borders and the completion of state building arrangements for the Palestinian Authority by August this year.

"In this regard, the viability of the political process and the credibility of the quartet are also at stake this year," Pascoe said. "We are seriously concerned at the continuing lack of progress in the search for a negotiated settlement."

   "Peace and the Palestinian statehood cannot be further delayed," he said.

Pascoe warned that tensions have heightened in the Middle East, faced this year with several immediate challenges, including the deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and developments in Lebanon following the filing of indictments in the 2005 murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others.

   The UN said the shelling of Israel by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip is also among the factors contributing to tensions and threatening the quartet's roadmap for peace of the Middle East.

The UN and council members, including the US, are opposed to new Israeli settlements in the West Bank. But the US is strongly opposed to Arab attempts to involve the UN Security Council in issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

US Deputy Ambassador Rosemary Di Carlo reiterated Washington's position against the Israeli settlements, calling them "corrosive" to peace in the Middle East and the two-state solution.

Washington supports negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to settle all permanent status issues, like Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and borders between Palestinian territories and Israel.

"We are consistently opposed to attempts to take these issues before the council and will continue to do so," Di Carlo in direct reference to an Arab-backed draft resolution submitted to the council on Wednesday.

The draft calls on the Security Council to declare that the "Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace."

It demands "the occupying power, to immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respects all of its legal obligations in this regard."

Arab diplomats said adoption of the draft would help push forward the momentum for the recognition of a new Palestinian state.

Israel did not attend the UN meeting on the Middle East. Its mission said a labour dispute prevented its diplomats from attending.

The Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, told the council that 107 governments have already stated in principle their recognition of the Palestinian state. That would constitute a majority in the 192-nation UN General Assembly.

The Arab-backed draft resolution was sponsored by 85 countries. But diplomats feared it would be vetoed by the US if it is put to a vote in the 15-nation council.

"It is widely recognized that Israel's settlement campaign now poses the most serious threat to the prospect of achieving the two- state solution for peace on the basis of the pre-1967 borders," Mansour said, referring to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967. Israel subsequently had been asked to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders.

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