The diplomatic Quartet promoting Middle East peace " comprising the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia " today called on the Israeli and Palestinian sides to resume negotiations as soon as possible with the aim of reaching a settlement within two years.
These negotiations should lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties within 24 months, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its neighbours, " the Quartet said in a joint statement read out by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after the group`s meeting in Moscow.
The Quartet welcomed the readiness to launch proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and emphasized that the circumstances which made it possible to agree to launch those talks be respected.
In addition, it reiterated its call on both sides to act on the basis of international law and on their previous agreements, particularly adherence to the Roadmap " the plan championed by the Quartet and which calls for two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
Members also underscored that the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties, and they condemned the decision by the Israeli Government to advance planning for new housing units in the occupied Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem.
In a related development, the Bureau of the General Assembly-mandated Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People voiced its grave concern today about Israel`s plans for settlement expansion in East Jerusalem.
We view it as alarming and totally unacceptable that the Government of Israel continues to flagrantly dismiss numerous calls by members of the international community, including the Quartet, for halting the illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and especially in East Jerusalem, " the Bureau said in a statement.
In addition, it reiterated its calls on the Israeli Government to immediately stop all its settlement activity and to refrain from any measures and actions that may alter the legal, demographic and cultural character and status of East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory.
While in Moscow, Mr. Ban also met today with European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton to discuss Haiti, the globally agreed anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), climate change and a range of regional security matters.
The Secretary-General is heading to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, which he will visit over the weekend.
The Secretary-General expects to meet with a range of senior officials, including Israel`s President and Prime Minister and the Palestinian Prime Minister, " UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters.
He also intends to visit Gaza, to see firsthand the humanitarian conditions there, " he added.
The Quartet, in its statement, expressed its deep concern at the continuing deterioration in Gaza, including the humanitarian and human rights situation, and stressed the urgency of a durable resolution to the crisis.