Israel defence minister orders boycott of UN envoy
Israel's hardline Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has ordered a boycott of a UN special envoy after his criticism of Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank, Israeli media reported on Thursday.
According to Israel's Channel 2, Lieberman ordered ministry employees and military officials to shun any contact with the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov.
An official in Mladenov's office said the envoy would be in New York on Thursday for a UN Security Council meeting.
New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully, who holds the council presidency this month, said he noted "with concern" reports of Lieberman's decision.
"This action, reportedly taken in response to the special coordinator doing the job we all asked him to do, is deeply counter productive," he said.
In August, Mladenov sharply criticised Israel over continued settlement building, saying a key recent report by the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process calling for a halt went unheeded.
"Its recommendations continue to be ignored, including by a surge in Israeli settlement-related announcements and continuing demolitions," Mladenov told the Security Council.
|A boycott would likely particularly affect Mladenov's discussions with the Israeli defence ministry unit known as COGAT that implements government policies in the Palestinian territories.|
The Quartet report was to serve as the basis for reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that has been at a standstill since a US initiative collapsed in April 2014.
There has been growing alarm that the construction of Jewish settlements on land Palestinians see as part of their future state is killing off prospects for a peace deal based on a two-state solution.
Since 1 July, Israel has advanced plans for more than 1,000 housing units in annexed east Jerusalem and 735 units in the West Bank, Mladenov said in August.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who says he still supports the two-state solution, has rejected such criticism, defending the building of settlements by pointing to Jews' historic connection to the land.
A boycott would likely particularly affect Mladenov's discussions with the Israeli defence ministry unit known as COGAT that implements government policies in the Palestinian territories.
'Unacceptable and outrageous'
On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday said it was "unacceptable and outrageous" for Netanyahu to claim that opposition to settlement building was equivalent to ethnic cleansing.
Netanyahu said in a video last week that Palestinians were trying to pursue a state with "no Jews" and that this was effectively a call for race extermination.
"I am disturbed by a recent statement by Israel's prime minister portraying those who oppose settlement expansion as supporters of ethnic cleansing," Ban said.
"This is unacceptable and outrageous."
Speaking during a Security Council meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ban spoke candidly about Israel's illegal settlement programme.
"Let me be absolutely clear: settlements are illegal under international law. The occupation, stifling and oppressive, must end," he said.
Ban used Israeli data to show that construction on settlements since April was at its highest level in three years.