In a rare direct rebuke to a U.N. member state, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the U.N. Security Council in New York Wednesday that Israel's latest settlement expansion plans in East Jerusalem are "unacceptable."
Freshly returned from a visit to the Middle East, Ban also urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-start peace talks "without delay," but cautioned that there is currently a "crisis of confidence" and said that "there have been too many negative facts being created on the ground, and these need to stop."
Earlier this month, Israel announced the construction of 1,600 new settlement units in East Jerusalem. On Tuesday, Israel announced plans to build another 20 settlement units in the majority Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem known as Sheikh Jarrah.
Palestinians fear that Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem - which they see as a future capital of a Palestinian state - will prejudge final status negotiations on the borders of Israel and Palestine. Fears were exacerbated recently when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "from our point of view, construction in Jerusalem is like construction in Tel Aviv." Many Palestinians saw Netanyahu's reference as another way of saying that all of Jerusalem belongs inside Israel's borders.
Ban reaffirmed to the Security Council the U.N.'s condemnation of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and stressed that "all settlement activity" by Israel "is illegal."
Summarzing his visit to the West Bank, Ban observed that "Palestinians need to be able to use more of their land - for housing, agriculture, industry, water, construction materials, and more." He also claimed to have "strongly advised Israeli authorities...to find a way to further ease the constraints that restrict Palestinian life."
The secretary general praised the efforts of Palestinian Authority leaders at establishing political stability in the West Bank, saying he was "impressed" by their state-building efforts. He added that the state's leadership has become "more transparent, accountable and effective." The West Bank is controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
Ban also noted that instability and violence in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip are taking a human toll, especially on Palestinian children. He also noted the recent death of an Israeli citizen via Palestinian militant rocket from Gaza.
The U.N. is already deeply involved in running camps and providing basic services in Gaza and Ban said that the U.N. will deliver more "far-reaching proposals" in the coming months. Ban stressed that the continued closure of the Gaza border crossings by Israel is "morally unacceptable and counter-productive."
The secretary general warned that negotiations between Israel and Palestine will be met with violence and strong opposition, but that such provocations should not delay diplomacy.
"The parties themselves must take steps to meet obligations and build trust," said Ban.
- From CNN'sÂ Terence Burke and Holly Glibert