UN chief Ban Ki-Moon met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday, hours after he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as part of a official visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
At a joint press conference, Ban spoke of the need for peace and the difficulties Palestinians face.
“I’m aware that many Palestinians question the feasibility of reaching a just and lasting peace with Israel. They hear talk of peace but they see violence. They still live a life of checkpoints, permits, blockade, demolitions and profound economic hardships faced with growing indignities and the humiliating occupation that will soon enter its 50th year,” he said.
Earlier, Ban had visited Gaza, bemoaning the blockade which Israel maintains to prevent Islamist terror group Hamas from importing weapons after its ouster of Fatah from the Palestinian enclave in a violent coup in 2007.
“We need to speak openly of the challenges and the unacceptable difficulties that the people of Gaza face of the humiliation of the occupation, but also the division between Gaza and the West Bank,” Ban said during the press conference with Abbas.
Ban visited the region as part of a global tour during his last year as the head of the UN.
During the press conference, Abbas blamed Israeli settlement building for stagnating peace talks with Israel and said his hands remained “outstretched for peace” but are thwarted by “continued Israeli occupation and settlements” in the West Bank.
He repeated a claim made last week in Brussels that Israeli actions increase Palestinian frustration and fuel “extremism and terror in the region and the world.” The charge was furiously rejected by Israel.
He added that he backs both the French and Arab initiatives to kick start peace talks.
Abbas said Palestinians seek peace based on a two-state solution and called for “international protection” for his people.
Ban had urged both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to show responsibility and end the cycle of violence.
Ban earlier Tuesday urged Netanyahu to take “courageous steps” toward peace.
He condemned a recent wave of Palestinian attacks, which he called “terrorism”, and said the Gaza blockade was “collective punishment”.
Speaking alongside Netanyahu at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, Ban called for efforts to keep the possibility of a two-state solution alive.
While acknowledging the threats facing Israel, Ban said “we must not allow difficulties to become excuses for inaction”.
“I encourage you to take the courageous steps necessary to prevent a one-state reality or perpetual conflict that is incompatible with realizing the national aspirations of the Israelis and Palestinian people,” he said.
“We cannot ignore key underlying causes of violence: growing Palestinian anger, the paralysis of the peace process, the nearly a half-century of occupation.”
Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank along with the lack of any progress in peace efforts have helped feed a wave of Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming attacks since October, many analysts say.
“Stabbings, vehicle rammings and shootings have only one name: terrorism,” said Ban.
“Incitement to such acts and glorification of their perpetrators are unacceptable and must be stopped,” he added.
Violence has declined in recent weeks, though attacks continue to occur, including a gun attack at a Tel Aviv cafe on June 8 that killed four Israelis.
“You need a political horizon,” Ban said. “You need a leadership that is committed to peace and a just and a lasting solution.”
Netanyahu called for an end to what he referred to as bias at the United Nations against Israel, citing repeated condemnations of his country.
Israel “does more to promote and protect human rights and liberal values than any other in the blood-soaked Middle East,” said Netanyahu.
Netanyahu also asked Ban to use his position in the international community to help secure the release of the remains of Israeli soldiers held by Hamas as well as Israeli civilians believed held captive in the Gaza Strip.
Calling Hamas a terrorist organization with “genocidal aims,” Netanyahu said the group “is cruelly and illegally holding the remains of our soldiers and holding our citizens. I ask you to use your standing to help return home these soldiers and these citizens.”
The issue has leaped to the top of the Israeli agenda in recent days amid a detente agreement with Turkey that does not include Gaza giving up the bodies and prisoners, as had been hoped by the families of the four missing Israelis.