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UN: Israeli Settlement Construction Imperils Peace Process

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FILE - Jeffrey Feltman

FILE - Jeffrey Feltman

The United Nations says chances for a negotiated two-state deal ending the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be "irreparably damaged" unless Israel stops new settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman spoke Tuesday to the U.N. Security Council. He told its 15 members that Israeli and Palestinian envoys have made some progress "toward narrowing their differences" during ongoing talks.

But Feltman also cited "strains" triggered by new settlement controversies, and said "the consequences of failure [in the ongoing talks] would be dire for Israelis and Palestinians alike."

Feltman faulted a series of Israeli announcements earlier this month heralding the approval of plans for the construction of more than 20,000 new housing units - most of them in a hotly contested area outside Jerusalem known as E1.

Palestinians say the construction would close one of the last open spaces between East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The construction announcements triggered threats of a Palestinian walkout from ongoing negotiations, and prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze the plans.

On Tuesday, Feltman said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expects the Israeli government to make the housing freeze permanent.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators began a new round of peace talks in July, promising to carry on those negotiations for nine months. The talks are taking place at an undisclosed location.

More than a half-million Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem - territories captured by Israel during the 1967 war that Palestinians envision as part of a future independent state. The international community rejects those settlements as illegal.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
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