UN chief urges Israel to halt settlement building

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets the press in Jerusalem on Wednesday. (Flash 90)

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday urged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to halt settlement construction in the West Bank as a confidence-building gesture to the Palestinian Authority.

“Settlements do not help the peace process,” Ban Ki-moon told a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “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.”

Ban’s call echoed a statement he made the day before in Jordan, when he called on Netanyahu to give the Palestinians some “goodwill gestures” so the low-level talks that began in Amman last month would continue.

“Of course, it will also be required that the Palestinian Authority comes to [the] dialogue table,” he said Tuesday after meeting in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

Netanyahu responded that a settlement freeze should be discussed in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, not as a precondition for talks. “This issue is a part of the negotiations, it can’t be a precondition,” Netanyahu said.

“Settlements are not the crux of the conflict, but one of its outcomes. The conflict started 50 years before there were settlements,” Netanyahu said.

Ban acknowledged that the Palestinians must make their own gesture, particularly Hamas. “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 met with President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman earlier in the day, and was also to meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Livni on his trip.

At the press conference with Netanyahu, Ban also called on Iran to comply with all Security Council resolutions and to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Ban told Peres he is worried about the possible military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, as described in a recent report by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. “I have been urging the Iranian authorities to prove that their nuclear program is genuinely for peaceful purposes. I think they have not yet convinced the international community,” he said.

Peres told Ban that the problem with Iran’s threat is more immediate than its nuclear program, noting that weapons from the Islamic Republic are being smuggled into Gaza.