UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N.'s top Mideast envoy challenged the Security Council on Thursday to lead the way to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, suggesting it should present a framework for negotiations that "may be the only way to preserve the goal of a two-state solution."
Robert Serry, in his final briefing to the council, also sharply criticized Israel's illegal building of settlements in Palestinian territories, saying it "may kill the very possibility of reaching peace on the paradigm of two states for two peoples."
"I frankly do not know if it is already too late," Serry said.
The U.N. envoy spoke a day after Israel's prime minister was officially chosen to form a new government following an acrimonious election campaign.
President Barack Obama has been clear this week about his impatience with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comments shortly before the Israeli elections that he would not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state on his watch.
Netanyahu has struck a conciliatory tone since the elections. But Obama has said he will reassess U.S. policy toward Israel after Netanyahu's remarks, meaning that the Security Council could be a potential place to take action on the decades-long conflict.
The council has long been blocked from taking action on the crisis, as United States is a top Israeli ally whose veto power as a permanent council member has been used to protect Israel for years. In late December, the council rejected a Palestinian resolution demanding an end to Israeli occupation within three years.
France, another permanent council member, has said in recent days it is willing to revisit the idea of a Security Council resolution.
Diplomats on Thursday, however, said the United States expressed no hint of Obama's stance during their statement in closed-door consultations after Serry's public briefing. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to talk publicly, later said longstanding U.S. support for Israel "against one-sided efforts in international bodies" had not changed.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre, the current council president, told reporters that all council members strongly support a two-state solution that "seems more and more distant each passing day."
But he said a "majority of members" support the council taking a stronger role in getting negotiations to resume.
Serry would not discuss the timing of a possible council resolution, saying only that maybe the time has come if the two sides can't agree on a framework for talks themselves. But he said it would be wrong to rush them.
Speaking to reporters, Serry also conceded feeling disheartened after his seven years as Mideast envoy and said he's asked himself at times "whether I'm pulling a dead horse." He stressed the need to make stabilizing Gaza a priority in talks, calling Gaza "our collective failure."
The Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., Riyad Mansour, told reporters he agrees with Serry's comments to the council on its need to take the lead.
"We hope the Security Council will ... take that responsibility very seriously," Mansour said. He said he wants to see a resolution with a timeframe for ending the Israeli occupation and with terms of reference for the peace process.
But the Palestinian envoy asked whether "key players" on the council would allow such a resolution to go through, a reference to the United States.
Mansour also said Netanyahu does not support a two-state solution, "regardless of his backpedalling" on his comments.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor criticized the Palestinians for pursuing "empty resolutions" and said his country wants direct negotiations instead of going through the council.