The U.N.'s political chief said Tuesday that Israel and the Palestinians remain far apart on reaching a peace accord but insists "now is time for everyone to give diplomacy a chance."
B. Lynn Pascoe told the U.N. Security Council that the main obstacles to setting up a Palestinian state _ a bid which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted last week despite a promised U.S. veto _ are political, not institutional. He said that the main issue remains the "continuing Israeli occupation and the ongoing Palestinian divide."
The remarks at the monthly briefing on the Middle East came as Israel announced it would build 1,100 more homes on contested land in Jerusalem.
They highlighted the tenuous path confronting not only the Palestinians and Israelis, but also the Quartet of Mideast mediators _ the U.N., U.S., European Union and Russia. The Quartet has drafted a plan to bring the two sides together for negotiations, with an ultimate goal of achieving a deal by the end of next year.
"Resuming negotiations, and making progress, is easier said than done," Pascoe told the council.
With the Quartet's proposal and the push to restart negotiations, he said, "this would be a moment where the parties would be truly tested in their readiness to make serious proposals that addressed the core concerns of the other."
Abbas' insistence on presenting the application for Palestine's full membership to the U.N. pushed the long-stalled peace process again to the forefront of this year's General Assembly discussions and sparked a frenzy of last-minute diplomacy to dissuade him from submitting the application. The U.S. has vowed to veto the statehood bid in the Security Council.
Abbas said that if it was rejected, the Palestinians could turn to the General Assembly to raise their current status as a permanent observer to the a nonmember observer state, and resubmit the application again with the council.
The Palestinians have refused to resume negotiations with Israel until the Jewish state halts the building of settlements on occupied land.
Israel, however, has rejected the Palestinian demand, with Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu again ruling out a freeze in an interview published Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, Israel announced 1,100 new housing units in east Jerusalem, a move that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized as counterproductive to the Mideast peace process.
Netanyahu has called for the resumption of peace talks without preconditions. He has dismissed demands that a Palestinian state be based on Israel's 1967 prewar lines _ putting him at odds with the administration of President Barack Obama.
Pascoe said the new settlement announcement was "of particular concern," adding that "we have repeatedly stated that settlement activity is illegal and contrary to Israel's" commitment to the peace efforts.
He also said extremists on both sides should not be allowed to "inflame the situation," noting several arson attacks by Jewish settlers on a mosque and a knife attack in Tel Aviv by a West Bank Palestinian on Aug. 29, as well as Israeli reports of a foiled suicide bombing the same month in Jerusalem.
The Palestinian request for recognition is to come up at the Security Council on Wednesday.
Diplomats said the council president will read a statement saying the Palestinian application has been transmitted to the council committee on the admission of new members, which includes all 15 council nations.
The committee is expected to hold its first private informal meeting on Friday at the level of ambassadors, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations have been private.
Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations