Ban welcomes decision of Israeli, Palestinian leaders to start direct negotiations

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today welcomed the decision by the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to begin direct negotiations and described the talks on the Middle East peace process "an opportunity that must not be wasted."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to direct negotiations starting in Washington on 2 September, following an invitation from the United States Government and a statement yesterday from the Middle East Quartet.

In a statement issued this morning by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban said "negotiations are on the only way for the parties to resolve all final status issues" and he called on both sides to demonstrate leadership and responsibility "to realize the aspirations of both peoples."

The statement noted that the international community's support for the negotiations is vital if they are to be successful and a comprehensive peace agreement is to be reached.

"This opportunity must be seized so that the hope of a better future for the people of the region to live in peace, security and freedom can be fully realized," he added.

Direct bilateral talks have not been held since late 2008, but indirect, or proximity, talks resumed in May this year, with the former United States senator George Mitchell shuttling between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas.

Seven rounds of indirect talks have been held and earlier this week Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco told a Security Council meeting that the push to resume direct talks had reached a turning point.

Late last month, Arab League foreign ministers agreed to give their backing in principle to Mr. Abbas re-starting direct negotiations when he deems it appropriate.

Yesterday the Quartet - comprising the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the US - issued a statement in which the group expressed "its determination to support the parties through the negotiations, which can be completed in one year, and the implementation of an agreement."