Israel is not building new settlements, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said to reporters after meeting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York Thursday night (Israel time).
He said Israel is committed to the Road Map and the two-state solution, noting that after 43 years of Israel's control of the West Bank, construction does not even cover 2% of the area. He added it was an exaggeration to say that Israel's building is preventing progress.
Ban expressed his disappointment in Israel's decision not to extend the moratorium, but Barak claimed construction was not a hurdle to progress in the peace talks.
Israel's defense minister said "it's an urgent necessity" for his country and the Palestinians to find a way to resume negotiations on core issues leading to a peace deal.
Barak added that he hopes a formula that moves beyond the current stalemate "will be found in coming few weeks in order to keep moving forward."
During former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's term, he said, in which there was extensive negotiation, there was twice as much construction and it did not impede progress. Barak also claimed that during his own term there was four times as much construction while Israel was in negotiation with the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.
During the meeting, Ban and Barak spoke about a range of regional issues, but mostly about the negotiations with the Palestinians. Barak said the sides must get over the hurdle of the freeze that was not extended, and get to the core issues. He expressed his hope that a way would be found in the coming weeks to progress.
Negotiations 'mutual interest'
Barak said the Palestinians must make a decision because there is a mutual interest to bring about a breakthrough in the negotiations.
The defense minister asked Ban to use his influence to persuade Mideast countries to support direct talks between Israel and the PA, which he called a strategic necessity of all the region's inhabitants.
Barak said he would be arriving in Washington over the weekend for talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Biden and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
During the meeting with the UN chief, Barak also addressed the situation in Lebanon, saying he was optimistic that the UN and Israel would be able to reach an agreement with regards to the border town of Ghajar.
As for the UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Barak said Israel was following the developments, but added that the matter was none of Israel's concern.
AP contributed to the report
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