UN chief urges Israel to freeze settlements despite failure to reach deal with U.S.
UN hopeful that U.S. can still facilitate Israeli-Palestinian talks; top U.S. official: Obama administration does not and will not condone settlements.
The UN Secretary-General publicly chastised the government of Israel on Wednesday for refusing to extend its ten-month moratorium on construction in the settlements of the West Bank that expired in September, calling it a snub to the international community.
A spokesperson for United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to renew its freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, framing it as an obligation that Israel is avoiding.
"The Secretary-General takes note with regret that Israel will not heed the united call of the international community, as reflected by the Quartet, to extend the settlement restraint policy," the spokesperson said.
"[Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon] reiterates his urging Israel to fulfill its road map obligation to freeze all settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem," the spokesperson added.
Negotiations between Israel and the U.S. government regarding Israel's renewal of a moratorium on West Bank settlement construction in exchange for an American letter of guarantees were declared a failure on Tuesday.
A senior U.S. diplomat confirmed Tuesday that Washington was "ending the contacts to try and achieve another [settlement construction] moratorium," but added that Washington would now seek to work toward a deal on security and border issues.
Ban's spokesperson said that despite his disappointment over Israel's refusal to renew the moratorium on settlement construction, the UN Secretary-General was encouraged by the United States government's public commitment to continue its efforts to facilitate negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
On his way to Washington, D.C., Defense Minister Ehud Barak will pass through New York City on Thursday for talks with the UN Secretary-General. Barak hopes to assuage fears that Israel's refusal to extend the settlement freeze signals the Netanyahu government's unwillingness to negotiate a permanent-status agreement with the Palestinians in good faith.
Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been on hold since Israel's 10-month freeze on new settlements expired at the end of September.
State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said Wednesday that the fact Washington was no longer pushing a temporary settlement freeze did not mean it condones continued building, stressing that the United States does not and will not accept Israel's continued West Bank settlement activity.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Crowley reiterated that the fact that the United States no longer considered a settlement freeze as a sufficient condition for continued talks did not mean Washington changed its views toward Israel's settlement activity.
As the United States continues with its attempts to renew talks, Crowley said, U.S. "position on settlements has not and will not change."
"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements, and we will continue to express that position," the State Department spokesman added.