Belfast Telegraph

Martin call on settlement building

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin has called for an end to settlement building in the West Bank as Middle East peace talks hung in the balance.

The minister told the United Nations a new round of face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority might be the last chance to resolve the complex two state dispute.

"There could be no greater single confidence building measure and practical demonstration of commitment to peace than a decision to desist from all settlement construction in the West Bank," Mr Martin said.

The minister made the call at the UN's general assembly in New York as negotiations were stalled for at least one week over Israel's decision to lift the ban on settlement building.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said he would wait until next Monday before deciding whether to pull the plug on the talks altogether.

Mr Martin said: "I urge all parties to refrain from any actions which could endanger the negotiation process.

"It is vital that every effort is made to keep the process intact. Our own experience in the Northern Ireland peace process has shown that political progress can only be achieved through dialogue. Maximum restraint for the duration of these talks, which are intended to be - and should be - completed within 12 months, would be a small price for lasting peace."

Mr Martin also criticised the Israeli blockade of Gaza, where he said 80% of the population live in poverty. "The deprivations and hardship which they are suffering because of the blockade are painfully obvious. Yet the people of Gaza show a remarkable dignity and resilience in the face of living conditions which are quite simply unacceptable," he said.

Mr Martin called for a return to export trade, recovery and reconstruction work to begin and key infrastructural projects identified by the UN be given the green light.

Mr Martin went on to praise the success of the Northern Ireland peace process, claiming it is an example of what can be achieved with patience, imagination and strong international support.

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