Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today reiterated his alarm at Israeli plans to expand its settlements in East Jerusalem, stressing that he shares the deep frustrations of Palestinian leaders and of the members of the Arab League.
Earlier this week, Israel’s Interior Ministry announced that it has approved plans to build 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, a move condemned by the international community, including the United States.
“Settlements are illegal, and their expansion violates the Roadmap,” Mr. Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.
That plan, endorsed by the diplomatic Quartet comprising the United Nations, the European Union, the US and Russia, calls for two States – Israel and Palestine – living side by side in peace and security.
The UN, Mr. Nesirky said today, has registered its protest with the Israeli Government and is also advising the Palestinian leadership to forge ahead with indirect negotiations.
In a statement yesterday, the Secretary-General said the Israeli announcement “undermines any movement towards a viable peace process.”
Next week, he will attend a Quartet meeting in Moscow, followed by a visit to Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The decision to expand the settlements “are not helpful… to build a climate of trust,” Filippo Grandi, the new Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), told reporters in New York yesterday.
For his part, the UN’s top humanitarian official, who recently wrapped up a visit to the Middle East, said today that he saw first hand how settlement expansion and property redevelopment is placing “pressure on the Palestinian community” in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
“We regard East Jerusalem as occupied territory,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said, echoing Mr. Ban’s point that settlement expansion is against the law.
On Gaza, he said that he is “frustrated” that more than a year after the end of conflict there, reconstruction has “hardly begun” due to the Israeli blockade, which has been in place since June 2007.
Mr. Holmes repeated the call made by the Secretary-General and other UN officials for a relaxation of the blockade to “allow Gazans to live something more like a normal life, rather than the existence which they have at the moment.”