UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday expressed concern that Israel’s settlement building could prevent the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state. Meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Ban said that he was “deeply troubled by Israel’s continuing settlement activity in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”
Ban added that “the settlement activity is deepening the Palestinian people’s mistrust in the seriousness on the Israeli side toward achieving peace. It will ultimately render a two-state solution impossible.”
According to Wafa, the Palestinian news agency, Abbas expressed hope that renewed talks with Israel would prove successful. He thanked Ban for the support the UN was giving the Palestinians, and praised the efforts by the US administration in bringing Israel back to the negotiating table.
A day earlier, Israelis and Palestinians held a second round of talks on the terms of a Palestinian state and an end-of-conflict peace accord. The talks came amid Israeli announcements of plans to promote the construction of more than 2,000 new settlement apartments.
Under US pressure, Abbas eventually agreed to return to talks without a settlement freeze, though the Palestinian leader’s aides have said the Obama administration assured them it would try to restrain Israeli construction over the Green Line. Amid expectations of a slowdown, Jerusalem’s recent announcements about new settlement plans prompted particular anger among Palestinian negotiators. Israeli officials argued that much of the new construction is planned in areas Israel expects to keep in any peace deal.
As a goodwill gesture before negotiations restarted, Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinians who had been convicted of terrorist activity against Israel before the Oslo agreement of 1993. On Tuesday night, one day before the resumption of talks in Jerusalem, the first 26 prisoners were freed — 11 to the West Bank and 15 to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
The US hopes Israelis and Palestinians can reach a deal within nine months, though expectations on all sides are low.
Standing alongside Ban, Abbas said all key issues were addressed in Wednesday’s talks, adding that “we can’t say that we have achieved or not achieved progress because we are still at the beginning.”
Ban arrived in Ramallah after first meeting with King Abdullah II in Jordan. The visit marked his first to the region since the UN General Assembly recognized the Palestinian Authority’s status as a nonmember observer state last November.
Ban also participated in a model UN event with a video link to Gaza and visited the grave of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel on Friday.