UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday in Jerusalem and urged Israel to halt settlement construction in the West Bank.

"Settlements do not help the peace process," Ban Ki-moon said. "I told the prime minister that he should refrain from future construction. I believe that Israel can have a major positive influence on the entire region."

Netanyahu told Ban that the settlement issue "is a part of the negotiations, it can't be a precondition."

The UN chief, who met with President Shimon Peres earlier in the day, continued: "Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip must stop. It is time for both sides to take confidence building measures. I call on Israel to make certain gestures toward the Palestinians. Middle East peace has a global influence and this is the reason why peace talks must continue."

Ban is one of several foreign leaders who have recently called on the Netanyahu government to make gestures toward the Palestinians in order to avoid a breakdown in the peace talks in Amman. Netanyahu has said is willing to make such gestures, but only if he is given guarantees that the Palestinians will not walk away from the negotiating table a few weeks later.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also met with Ban on Wednesday, and told him that "the impression is that the Palestinians are only interested in declaring the failure of the talks in Amman so they can continue with unilateral steps."

In recent weeks, the Palestinians have repeatedly asked that Israel release approximately 130 prisoners it Israel has been holding since the years before the Oslo Accords. Other possible gestures may include increased Palestinian security control over areas B and C.

In a meeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Ramallah on Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of foiling efforts to restart direct peace talks, blaming Israel for refusing to recognize the borders of a Palestinian state and halt settlement construction.

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