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UN leader calls for 'goodwill gestures' by Israel

UN chief Ban Ki-moon calls for 'goodwill gestures' by Israel to revive the peace process with the Palestinians after meeting with Jordanian leaders

AFP , Tuesday 31 Jan 2012
Ban Ki-moon
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, meets with Jordan Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, in Amman, Jordan Tuesday Jan. 31, 2012. (Photo:AP)
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UN leader Ban Ki-moon called on Tuesday for "goodwill gestures" by Israel to encourage the Palestinians to revive the Middle East peace process, ahead of talks with leaders from the two sides.

Speaking after meeting with Jordanian leaders, Ban did not say what the gestures were, but he has been an outspoken critic of Israel's increased settlement in the occupied territories, which the Palestinians blame for the latest peace impasse.

Ban held separate talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh before he goes on Wednesday to meet with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah.

He praised Jordan for hosting five sets of preliminary talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators this month.

"This momentum created after two years should be sustained," Ban told a press conference after his talks with Judeh.

"Both sides should return to the dialogue table with a sense of strong political will and courage," he added.

The UN secretary general stressed the need for "the Israeli government to take some goodwill gestures so that these meetings can continue. Of course this will also require the Palestinian authorities to come to the dialogue table.

"That is what I am going to discuss with Israeli leaders and Palestinian Authority leaders."

Direct talks have been frozen since September 2010, when the Palestinians pulled out after Israel's refusal to extend a moratorium on settlement building.

While world powers have all condemned Israel's heightened settlement drive, the deadlock has also been increased by a Palestinian bid to gain international recognition elsewhere, including with an application for full UN membership.

No progress has been reported in the Amman contacts, but Ban's visit comes less than a week after EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton went to Jerusalem and Ramallah to press Netanyahu and Abbas to pursue the contacts.

The United States has also been putting pressure on the two sides, diplomats said.

"My visit comes at an important moment," Ban said last week when he announced the trip. "I will be there to encourage both sides to engage in earnest and create a positive atmosphere for moving forward."

Ban is also expected to meet Israeli President Shimon Peres and other top officials from both sides during his stay, UN officials said.

The United Nations, European Union, Russia and United States make up the diplomatic Quartet that has been trying to broker a Middle East peace deal.

The UN secretary general met with the Quartet envoy, former British premier Tony Blair, at the Davos forum in Switzerland last week, a UN spokesman said. Blair is believed to be back in Jerusalem.

On Monday, the Palestine Liberation Organisation blamed Israel for "the failure" of the preliminary talks.

"In light of the results of the Amman meetings, the PLO executive committee considers the Israeli government and it alone to be entirely responsible for their failure," Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestinian umbrella organisation, said in a statement.

"These meetings revealed Israel's insistence to continue settlement activities and its refusal of a two-state solution on the basis of 1967 borders," the statement said.

Abbas has been consulting with Palestinian leaders, and is to attend an Arab League committee on the Middle East conflict on Thursday before deciding his next move.

"There are pressures from many sides, prodding them to return to talks. But there are also elements from many sides -- including events in Syria -- which are holding them back," one official close to the Quartet contacts with the Israelis and Palestinians told AFP.

Asked on Sunday about the prospects of renewed peace talks, the Israeli prime minister said: "The signs are not particularly propitious."

However, Israel says the Amman meetings should continue.

The diplomatic Quartet called on 26 October for both sides to present comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months, as a first step towards resuming direct talks.

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