UN chief urges Israelis 'to engage in dialogue'
UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday urged Israel to be more flexible in dealings with the Palestinian leadership and offer "incentives" to get deadlocked talks started again.
Ban told AFP in an interview that he was also pressing Palestinians to get Hamas to recognize Israel and renounce violence. But the new Hamas-Fatah unity must be given a chance, Ban said.
The United Nations is part of the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East -- with the United States, Russia and European Union -- which set out a roadmap to peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
US President Barack Obama set a target of September this year for a Palestinian state. But with talks frozen and Palestinians blaming Israel for its settlement expansion, that deadline now looks impossible to reach.
Ban said that as part of his Quartet efforts, "I have been speaking many times with Israeli leaders, urging them to be flexible and provide some good incentives to Palestinians so that this dialogue can resume without any conditions."
He said the international community remained strongly committed to the principle of two states.
"I am asking and urging Israelis to engage in dialogue, lift sanctions and the blockade in Gaza, provide good opportunities for the wellbeing of people in the West Bank," he said.
"At the same time I am also urging the Palestinian leadership to return to the dialogue table without conditions. This is the best way to avoid any confrontation."
Ban said he was deeply concerned by recent violence involving Palestinian protesters who crossed Israel's borders with Lebanon, Syria and in the occupied territories.
Many diplomats have predicted more protests, which they say are partly inspired by the Arab spring demonstrations in other Middle East countries. "All this does not help in promoting the harmonious progress of dialogue," Ban said.
Ban said that unity between the Palestinian factions is a necessary step toward a peace deal. "At the same time I know that there are some concerns and reservations raised by Israel and other countries" about Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel as a state and to abandon violence.
But speaking of the recent deal between Hamas and the Fatah faction led by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, Ban said: "Since they have agreed to reconcile each other, let us give them a chance at this time and we will try to monitor how this situation develops."