Arabs Slam Israel over Settlement Policy at UN

Arab countries slammed Israel over its settlement expansion policy in the West Bank Friday during a U.N. Security Council debate.

Saudi Arabia, the Arab League and the Palestinian president urged the U.N. Security Council to save the faltering Middle East peace process by demanding an end to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.

The debate was held only hours before a ministerial session of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet – Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations – aimed to promote peace in the Middle East.

"Settlement makes the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible," Prince Saud al-Faisal said during the council debate.

"The only path to Israel’s security is peace and it is time for Israel to understand that it cannot continue to exempt itself from behaving in accordance to international law," said the Saudi foreign minister, whose country formally called for the debate Monday.

The debate was taking place only hours before the Middle East diplomatic Quartet was due to hold a ministerial session to review prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the wake of the US-sponsored Annapolis process launched last November.

In August, Israel approved construction of 400 new homes in a Jewish neighborhood in annexed east Jerusalem and invited bids for construction of another 416 settler homes in the occupied West Bank. The construction of settlements has nearly doubled since 2007, despite Israel’s pledge to freeze such activities, the Israeli watchdog Peace Now said last month.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas told the council Friday that the Israeli settlement blocs "will not allow for the emergence of a viable Palestinian state because they divide the West Bank into at least four cantons."

"How can I convince my people of the necessity of peace with Israel when settlement construction continues?" he added.

But Israel’s new UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev told council members that while the settlements are a "delicate issue," they "are not an obstacle to peace."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not focus on the settlement issue in her remarks to the debate and instead urged Arab countries to "consider ways they might reach out to Israel."

She added that the Arab world needed to fully understand that "Israel belongs to the Middle East and will remain" in the Middle East.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country currently chairs the European Union, meanwhile restated the EU view that Israeli settlements, "wherever in the occupied Palestinian territories, are illegal under international law."

He added that settlement "harms the credibility of the process started in Annapolis and affects the viability of the future Palestinian state."

In Annapolis, Maryland last November, Israel and the Palestinians revived negotiations toward resolving core problems like the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state and refugees.

The parties set the goal of a peace deal by the end of 2008, but that target is looking increasingly difficult to meet.

(Agencies via Alarabiya.net)

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