Obama asks Israel to extend settlements ban
US President Barack Obama called on Israel yesterday to extend a moratorium on building settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, as he launched an impassioned plea for the world to help the two sides in the long-running Middle East conflict to reach a peace agreement within a year.
Using the platform of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr Obama said that the 10-month reduction in settlement activity had "improved the atmosphere for talks and made a difference on the ground".
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is threatening to walk out of the talks if Israel does not continue the ban on construction of new Jewish homes, which expires next week.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has so far said he would not extend the moratorium, and the looming expiration appears to have stalled the negotiations, which started in Washington earlier this month and moved to a second round in Egypt and in Jerusalem last week.
But those talks ended inconclusively and without the expected announcement of a third session.
Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, and George Mitchell, the US administration's special Middle East envoy, have been meeting with officials from both sides on the sidelines at the UN meeting in New York this week, but seem to have made little headway. Mr Obama implored the international community to help.
He said: "When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.
"Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine.
"And those of us who are friends of the Palestinians must understand that the rights of the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel." (© Daily Telegraph, London)