UN chief pushes for direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations

UN chief pushes for direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and German Foreign Guido Westerwelle called Wednesday on Palestinians and Israelis to continue talks begun last month in Jordan, dpa reported.

Westerwelle offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a carrot, announcing in Ramallah that Germany was, retroactively from January 1, upgrading the Palestinian General Delegation in Berlin to a diplomatic mission - one step below a full embassy. The symbolic step was aimed at strengthening the Palestinian Authority.

Westerwelle offered the Palestinians 16 million euros for assistance to refugees and water projects. Germany agreed to give the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial institute in Jerusalem 10 million euros over the next 10 years.

In Ramallah, Ban said that Israel's West Bank settlements are a violation of international law and harm the chances for a peace agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier told the secretary general that the issue of settlements must be solved in negotiations and not raised as a condition for negotiations.

Ban agreed that both sides must "engage in direct negotiations."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas replied that Israel, in five rounds of talks in Amman over three weeks, did not present anything that would encourage negotiations.

If it did, "it would be possible to return to negotiations," Abbas told a joint news conference in the central West Bank City.

Ban earlier said he hoped Israel would submit proposals on the two negotiating issues of borders and security, as requested by the Quartet of Middle East peace sponsors, comprised of the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia.

"My position, the United Nations' position on settlements, is clear: It does not help the ongoing peace process," Ban said, meeting Abbas, adding he had urged the parties to avoid "provocative actions."

"A Palestinian state is long over due," he said, but added, the two-state solution can be achieved only through negotiations.

Abbas reiterated that he was consulting with Palestinian parties and Arab countries on what to do next, after the series of "exploratory" talks in Jordan had ended.

Israel's creation of facts on the ground, by continuing to expand settlements, was unacceptable, he reiterated.

Abbas is scheduled to consult Saturday with the Arab League, before making a final decision on discontinuing the short-lived, Jordanian-mediated dialogue with Israel. He is under international pressure not to quit the talks, having met last week with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

On Tuesday in Amman, Ban had urged both Israel "to make some good gestures so that the meetings can continue" and Palestinian officials to change their minds.

Abbas told Westerwelle he was willing to return to the table once Israel committed on the issues of borders and halted construction in settlements.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who met Ban separately, accused the Palestinians of not being interested in advancing peace talks but wanting to sabotage them, in an attempt to justify further unilateral moves at the United Nations.

A Palestinian attempt - opposed by Israel and the United States - to become a member state of the UN failed last year, when it became clear there was not a majority in the Security Council in favour of such a step.

Ban, who met Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah, kicked off his tour of Israel and the Palestinian territories Wednesday morning by meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Ban told a joint news conference after the parley that he was "convinced" Israel could "improve its strategic relations with its neighbours.

Peres, a known dove, said the peace process was "encountering natural differences."

"It's not the end of it. It may take time. We shall have to struggle," he said.

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