[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank "illegal," during a press conference [BBC report] Saturday. The statement comes two weeks after Israel announced [Haaretz report] the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], where Palestinians hope to establish the capital of their future state. Ban said:
The world has condemned Israel's settlement expansion plans in East Jerusalem. Let us be clear, all settlement activities [are] illegal anywhere in Occupied Territory, the Quartet has reaffirmed that position. I'm also concerned about actions in Hebron, Jerusalem, and Israel. I urge all parties to respect sensitives and promote calm. We can and must find a way for Jerusalem to emerge from negotiations as the capital of two states with arrangements for holy sites acceptable to all.
During the press conference, in which Ban was joined by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad [BBC profile], Ban voiced his support [NYT report] for Fayyad's plans to build the institutions of an independent state by 2011, and called for the immediate resumption of peace talks to result in an independent Palestinian state within two years, echoing a statement [text] released by the Quartet on the Middle East Friday. The Quartet, a group comprising the US, European Union, UN, and Russia, dedicated to mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, urged the Israeli government to "freeze all settlement activity … and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem." On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [official website; BBC profile] stated [WP report] that construction in East Jerusalem would not be restricted despite international criticism and pressure from the US.
Two weeks ago, indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians were postponed [Al Jazeera report] after the Israeli Interior Ministry [official website, in Hebrew] announced the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. The announcement coincided with a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden [official profile] to promote the talks, touching off a diplomatic row between the two nations. Israeli activity in the West Bank has remained a controversial issue, and has been deemed to violate international law on several occasions. In June 2008, Ban asserted that Israeli plans to expand settlements [Haaretz report] in the West Bank violated international law [JURIST report]. Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories were held to be illegal [opinion text, PDF] under international law by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] in 2004. Shortly after construction of the border wall [JURIST news archive] began in the West Bank in 2002, the ICJ held that it also violated international law [opinion text; JURIST report], amounting to a "de facto annexation."