United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday appeared to hold Israel partially responsible for lack of progress in the Arab world.

“Development in the Arab region has also been held back by protracted conflict, injustice and occupation. The stalemate in the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis is especially troubling,” Ban stated in a message to the Third Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, currently taking place in Saudi Arabia.

“We must renew our collective engagement to resume meaningful negotiations that will realize Palestinian aspirations to live in freedom and dignity in an independent state of their own, side by side with Israel in peace and security,” read his statement, delivered in Riyadh by Rima Khalaf, the executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.

Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, rejected any connection between Israeli policies and the situation in the Arab world.

“We know that there is conflict between us and the Palestinians, but attempts to elevate that to the core issue of the Middle East are doing a disservice to everybody,” Hirschson told The Times of Israel. Trying to blame Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians for the low investment in education, insufficient women rights, lack of democracy and other issues causes the world to lose focus on the real problems Arab countries face, he added. “There is a conflict between us and the Palestinians, and we’re trying to solve it. I’m not saying that we never made any mistakes, but one has nothing to do with the other.”

In his remarks, Ban acknowledged Arab citizens’ “legitimate calls for progress, freedom and dignity” that arose in recent years. He welcomed the adoption of a new controversial constitution in Egypt and also commended Saudi King Abdullah for his recent appointment of 30 women to the Shura Council, the closest body the monarchy has to a parliament, though it has no real powers.

“Across the region, the challenge now is to deepen and broaden reform efforts,” Ban stated. “In particular, a new and more hopeful era for the Arab world demands that youth and women have opportunities to realize their aspirations.”