UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon slammed Israeli settlement building on Monday, calling for renewed peace talks to avoid further conflict with the Palestinians, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressed the UN chief to to prevent the Palestinians from taking unilateral diplomatic measures at the United Nations which would "undermine" peace.
"A real peace can only be achieved through bilateral negotiations," Netanyahu told Ban in a meeting in Jerusalem.
"I believe that unilateral steps by Palestinians at the United Nations will not advance peace," he said. "If the United Nations wants to a support a genuine reconciliation, it must avoid any steps that could undermine peace."
Ban visited both Israel and the West Bank on Monday, a day after a Cairo conference at which international donors pledged $5.4 billion (4.3 billion euros) to rebuild the war-ravaged Gaza Strip.
"The amount that has been committed, pledged by the international community is quite encouraging," Ban said at a joint news conference with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah.
The funds would go towards the "urgently needed" reconstruction of infrastructure and homes, he said, referring to an "unprecedented" level of destruction in Gaza where nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the 50-day war in July and August.
But "while rebuilding is important, we must tackle the root causes of instability," Ban said.
"We must give renewed attention to the West Bank.
"I once again strongly condemn the continued settlement activity by Israel," the UN chief said, echoing international condemnation of plans for new settler homes on disputed territory the Palestinians want for their future state.
The White House and European Union have slammed Israel's approval in September for 2,600 new settlement units in southern Jerusalem, beyond the Green Line.
The settlements issue has caused the breakdown of numerous rounds of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
"I am also deeply concerned by repeated provocations at the holy sites in Jerusalem. These only inflame tensions and must stop," Ban said.
His comments came hours after Police and Palestinian protesters clashed at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the scene of the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
The site is holy to both Jews and Muslims, and is an underlying cause of Israeli-Palestinian tension, which has heightened in Jerusalem since the Gaza conflict.
Ban called for the two sides to revive a stagnant peace process that collapsed in April despite intense US efforts.
"I urge Palestinians to show courage and continue engaging in the... peace process... (and) Israelis to do the same," Ban said.
"I welcome renewed international political leadership and action. Time is not on the side of peace.
"We need to act immediately to prevent a deepening of an already unsustainable status quo... this is the only way to avoid yet another tragic conflict in the future," he said.
In a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, Ban noted that "Israel has taken steps in the right direction, easing restrictions on movement and trade and this is positive, and we hope to see further steps in this direction. More cooperation will benefit both sides.”
The president told Ban that while the rehabilitation of Gaza was an Israeli interest as well as a Palestinian one, "the lifting of such restrictions can only take place after the Palestinian leadership, and the international community, find a way to dismantle the terrorist capabilities of Hamas, and ensure that Israeli citizens will be able to live in safety."
"Israel cannot tolerate a situation, in which Hamas is targeting Israeli civilians, and expanding its terrorist capabilities and infrastructure,” Rivlin added.
Ynetnews contributed to this report.