Security Council calls for two-state solution
Palestinians, Israelis urged to resume talks
UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council sent a strong message to Israel yesterday that the international community is demanding "urgent efforts" to create a separate Palestinian state and achieve an overall Mideast peace settlement.
The council statement was approved by all 15 members a week before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who has refused to endorse the two-state solution, holds his first meeting in Washington with President Obama.
US Ambassador Susan Rice, speaking at a ministerial meeting of the council as a member of Obama's Cabinet, underscored the president's determination to vigorously pursue "a comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors" in the months ahead.
Israel's UN ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, objected to the meeting, saying Israel doesn't believe the involvement of the Security Council contributes to the political process in the Middle East and calling the timing "inappropriate" because of Netanyahu's upcoming visit and the government's ongoing policy review.
"This process should be bilateral and left to the parties themselves," Shalev said in a statement.
But Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia, which holds the council presidency this month and organized yesterday's meeting, stressed the importance of a rapid resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and of international involvement in the process, a view echoed by Rice and council members.
The council reiterated its call for "renewed and urgent efforts by the parties and the international community" to reach a Mideast peace agreement "based on the vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, will live side by side in peace," according to its statement.
Lavrov said the council wanted to ensure that the two-state solution was "clearly reaffirmed" and "that the resumption of talks should not go back to square one," he said.
While Israel's previous government, led by Prime Minster Ehud Olmert, was committed to the goal of Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peaceful independent states, Netanyahu has expressed misgivings about an independent Palestinian state.
In the six weeks since he became prime minister, Netanyahu has pointed to Hamas's takeover of Gaza as a precedent and warned that turning over land to the Palestinians can bring violent extremists to power and endanger Israel.
While the Security Council took a strong tone with Israel, it also had a message for the Palestinians.
It urged Palestinian factions to take "tangible steps" toward reconciliation, such as renouncing violence, respecting past commitments, and recognizing Israel - the last of which Hamas refuses to do.
The council backed the long-stalled road map to Mideast peace drafted in 2003 by the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers - the United States, Russia, the UN, and the European Union - that outlined simultaneous steps for Israel and the Palestinians to establish a Palestinian state.
The council also backed the Arab peace initiative launched in 2002 that calls for Arab recognition of the Jewish state in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from all lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said both sides must take steps to achieve peace.
"Violence and terror will not bring the Palestinians statehood and dignity," he said, "and settlement expansion and closure will not bring Israel security or peace."
Also yesterday, in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, Netanyahu sought Egypt's help in building a coalition of Arab nations against Iran, framing the broader Middle East conflict as one in which moderates must band together to confront extremists.
The Israeli leader spoke at a news conference beside President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt after they met in the Red Sea resort. Mubarak avoided any mention of specific regional threats and said peace with the Palestinians would bring stability and reinforce cooperation in the region.
It was Netanyahu's first trip to the Arab world since becoming prime minister on March 31.
Netanyahu made an argument that the Jewish state and moderate Arab nations shared a common threat.
"The struggle in the Middle East is not a struggle between peoples or a struggle between religions," he said. "It is a struggle between extremists and moderates, a struggle between those who seek life and those who spread violence and death."