UN chief urges end to Israeli occupation
Beirut - UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Sunday called for an end to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, saying the illegal building of settlements worked against a two-state solution.
"The Israeli occupation of Arab and Palestinian territories must end. So must violence against civilians," Ban said in a keynote address at a conference in Beirut on democracy in the Arab world.
"Settlements, new and old, are illegal. They work against the emergence of a viable Palestinian state," the UN secretary general said.
"A two-state solution is long overdue. The status quo offers only the guarantee of future conflict."
Ban arrived in Beirut on Friday to attend a conference entitled "Reform and Transitions to Democracy" organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).
Among the conference speakers are Egyptian presidential hopeful and former Arab League chief Amr Mussa and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose country has emerged as a key regional player in the Middle East.
The Israeli foreign ministry responded to Ban's comments by saying ongoing talks between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were the best way to address the concerns raised by the UN chief.
"The only thing I can say at this point is that the most important thing is to keep negotiations going in view of solving all of the issues including those mentioned by the secretary general," said the ministry's spokesperson, Yigal Palmor.
"The most important thing now is not to jeopardise the talks that are under way."
Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have so far held three rounds of "exploratory" talks in Jordan to discuss the possibility of resuming negotiations that have been on hold since late September 2010.
But a wide gap continues to separate the two sides in the talks, held under the auspices of Jordan and the peacemaking Quartet, a Palestinian official close to the negotiations told AFP in Ramallah.
"There is still a wide gap between us on all positions because the Israeli side has not presented anything new and continues to hinder the resumption of negotiations," the official said on condition of anonymity.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat has said the Amman talks would not be translated into full negotiations without a settlement freeze and clear parameters.
Israel, meanwhile, has called for direct talks to begin immediately and without preconditions.
The Quartet, comprising the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia, has urged both sides to present comprehensive proposals on borders and security before January 26 with a view to resuming talks shortly afterwards.
So far only the Palestinians have done so.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is currently seeking full state membership at the UN and at the weekend said he would press on with the campaign no matter the outcome of the talks.