A U.S. peace envoy on Wednesday urged Israelis and Palestinians to pursue a peace accord now, rather than later, saying the greatest risk to the parties was to stall.
Dennis Ross explained President Barack Obama's vision of two states for two peoples, based on the lines before the 1967 Mideast war with mutually agreed land swaps. He warned that with the region in flux and Palestinians threatening to seek independence unilaterally, time was short. Israel captured the west Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in that war.
"Without a credible peace process to serve as an alternative, the march to isolate Israel internationally and the Palestinian impulse to abandon negotiations will only grow stronger," he said. "The status quo is not sustainable ... at this pivotal moment the greatest risk of all is to sit back and do nothing."
He was speaking at the third annual Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem.
Ross has been in the region trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed last year with the expiration of an Israeli moratorium on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank.
The Palestinians have refused to renew talks without a complete settlement freeze and are pursuing a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations in September. Israel wants talks without preconditions and says the settlements should be one of the issues on the table.
A top Palestinian official at the conference tried to play down the significance of the U.N. initiative.
"Israel was established by a U.N. resolution in 1947. I think our right is to go to the U.N. and ask them to implement the other birth certificate for the other state," said Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub.
Rajoub, a former head of Palestinian security, indicated to the Israeli audience that the Palestinians will not insist on a physical right of return for refugees and their descendants from the war that followed Israel's creation _ millions of people _ and will not seek a violent third uprising.
He said violence was "not on our schedule." Regarding the sensitive issue of Palestinian refugees, Rajoub said Israel was responsible for solving it but that ultimately it would be resolved in agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Officially, Palestinians demand the "right of return" of all the refugees and their families. Israel rejects that as an attempt to undermine the Jewish character of their state
"We are not looking to make a drastic demographic change in the society of the state of Israel," Rajoub said.
He urge Israel to freeze its West Bank settlement construction and negotiate with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"Abu Mazen is committed," he said, referring to Abbas by his nickname. "Abu Mazen is the last opportunity for the Israelis."