Department of pretty much unnoticed in the US press.... N.B. Bernard Kouchner's statement as well as that of the Saudi Foreign Minister. The two-state solution, not -- it appears -- highlighted in the rebuttal by Israel's ambassador, seems to be vanishing everywhere except in the minds of unreflective Americans and apologists for Israel.
Arabs slam Israel over settlement policy at UN meet
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — Arab countries slammed Israel over its settlement expansion policy in the West Bank Friday during a UN Security Council debate held only hours before a ministerial session of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet.
"Settlement makes the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible," Prince Saud al-Faisal said during the council debate.
"The only path to Israel's security is peace and it is time for Israel to understand that it cannot continue to exempt itself from behaving in accordance to international law," said the Saudi foreign minister, whose country formally called for the debate Monday.
The debate was taking place only hours before the Middle East diplomatic Quartet was due to hold a ministerial session here to review prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the wake of the US-sponsored Annapolis process launched last November.
In August, Israel approved construction of 400 new homes in a Jewish neighbourhood in annexed east Jerusalem and invited bids for construction of another 416 settler homes in the occupied West Bank.
The construction of settlements -- viewed as a major obstacle to reaching a peace deal -- has nearly doubled since 2007, despite Israel's pledge to freeze such activities, the Israeli watchdog Peace Now said last month.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas told the council Friday that the Israeli settlement blocs "will not allow for the emergence of a viable Palestinian state because they divide the West Bank into at least four cantons."
"How can I convince my people of the necessity of peace with Israel when settlement construction continues?" he added.
But Israel's new UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev told council members that while the settlements are a "delicate issue," they "are not an obstacle to peace."
"They have been used here as another instrument to bash Israel instead of addressing the realities on the ground," she added.
"There is much that those in the region can do to support that (peace) process, but it is not about more UN meetings," Shalev said. "It is, first and foremost, about commitment to prepare the people of the region for the price of peace, to accept the true meaning of peace."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not focus on the settlement issue in her remarks to the debate and instead urged Arab countries to "consider ways they might reach out to Israel."
She added that the Arab world needed to fully understand that "Israel belongs to the Middle East and will remain" in the Middle East.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country currently chairs the European Union, meanwhile restated the EU view that Israeli settlements, "wherever in the occupied Palestinian territories, are illegal under international law."
He added that settlement "harms the credibility of the process started in Annapolis and affects the viability of the future Palestinian state."
In Annapolis, Maryland last November, Israel and the Palestinians revived negotiations toward resolving core problems like the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state and refugees.
The aid agencies said the Quartet -- the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations -- has failed to hold Israel to account for expanding settlements in the West Bank -- which the four powers oppose -- and had little impact on boosting freedom of movement for Palestinians.
Moreover, the "lack of progress on key goals" set by the Quartet called the group's entire approach into question, said a report from the coalition, which includes Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid, CARE and CAFOD.