Patrick Worsnip
April 21, 2011 - 12:00am

The United Nations called on Thursday for "bold and decisive steps" to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as the region awaits a possible new initiative by U.S. President Barack Obama.

U.N. political chief Lynn Pascoe and ambassadors of key Security Council countries said it was important to break the deadlock soon as a proclaimed September deadline for reaching an agreement draws closer.

Peace talks opened last September with the aim of an accord in one year but quickly broke down after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a partial freeze on Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian leaders have said that if the deadline expires with no deal, they may seek U.N. backing for a Palestinian state -- a move that Israel and its big power ally the United States are keen to avoid.

"Bold and decisive steps are needed to resolve this decades-long conflict, with vision, leadership and responsibility from all concerned," Pascoe told a monthly meeting of the Security Council on the Middle East.

He said it was a matter of concern that "the political track is falling behind the significant progress" made by the Palestinian Authority in its preparations to become a functioning government ready for statehood.

A planned meeting of the Quartet of Middle East mediators -- the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union -- has twice been called off in recent weeks.

European diplomats said the delays had been requested by the United States. Last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Obama would lay out plans for a new U.S. push for Arab-Israeli peace in a speech to be made in coming weeks.

Netanyahu is expected to address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress during a visit to Washington next month. He was invited by Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, one of Obama's chief critics.


European countries believe the Palestinians could drop their push for U.N. recognition if "parameters" are announced for fresh peace talks. Diplomats said they had been hoping the Quartet would announce them, but now hoped Obama might do so.

The parameters, spelled out in a British-French-German statement to the Security Council in February, include: Palestinian and Israeli states based on 1967 borders but amended by land swaps, security arrangements for both sides, Jerusalem as capital of both states, and a refugee solution.

German Ambassador Peter Wittig told Thursday's council meeting that his country was looking forward to Obama's speech and that "strong U.S. leadership is required." French Ambassador Gerard Araud said "the time has passed for imagining new interim solutions."

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice gave little clue as to what Obama would propose, saying only that Washington favored a two-state solution achieved through direct negotiations.

But she called on the United Nations to "end, once and for all" action on its controversial Goldstone report, which accused Israel and Hamas Palestinian militants of war crimes during the December 2008-January 2009 conflict in Gaza.

Richard Goldstone, the South African judge who led the inquiry, has recently said he no longer believes Israel had a policy of targeting civilians, as his report had alleged.

Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour appeared to lend support to the European initiative, saying Palestinians wanted "to resume a credible peace process on the basis of internationally supported parameters."

Israeli Ambassador Meron Reuben gave no detailed account of where he saw negotiations heading, but voiced long-standing Israeli skepticism about U.N. involvement, quoting President Shimon Peres as saying, "We need solutions, not resolutions."


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