Amid a spat with the United States, Israel is facing mounting international pressure on its settlement policies.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the West Bank and got a first-hand look at nearby Jewish settlements. Accompanied by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Ban was able to see the red-roofed settlement of Givat Ze'ev, which is home to 11,000 Israelis. Further in the distance were Jewish neighborhoods in disputed East Jerusalem.
Speaking at a news conference in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Ban was unequivocal.
"The world has condemned Israel's settlement expansion plans in East Jerusalem. Let us be clear, all settlement activities is illegal anywhere in occupied territory and this must stop," he said.
Ban's visit comes amid a crisis in relations between the United States and Israel over new plans to build 1,600 homes in a Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Washington was furious that the plan was announced during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. The U.S. has demanded that the settlement project be scrapped to clear the way for indirect peace talks.
Ban said peace talks should resume immediately.
"I encourage all Palestinians to support negotiations. Negotiations must lead to an end to the 1967 occupation. All final status issues including Jerusalem, refugees, and borders have to be resolved," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will not stop construction in East Jerusalem because it is part of the capital of the State of Israel. But he is willing to make gestures to advance the peace process such as releasing Palestinian prisoners and removing West Bank roadblocks. Mr. Netanyahu will try to resolve the crisis when he visits Washington next week.