Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been stalled since late September following Israel’s refusal to extend a 10-month freeze on settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory. That decision prompted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw from direct talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which had only resumed a few weeks earlier after a two-year hiatus.“The current lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is a source of great concern,” Mr. Ban said in a message to the UN International Meeting in Support of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, which opened today in Brussels.“Less than three months remain until the September target date that had been set last year for reaching an agreement on permanent status issues and for completing the Palestinian Authority’s two-year state-building programme. “With historic popular protest and political change taking place throughout the region, it is critical for Palestinians and Israel to re-engage in serious negotiations,” Mr. Ban said in the message, delivered on his behalf by Maxwell Gaylard, Deputy UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory.From Tunisia and Egypt to Bahrain and Yemen, a wave of popular protests has arisen across the Middle East and North Africa since the start of this year in a bid to bring about democratic reforms and greater fundamental freedoms. The uprisings have already toppled the long-standing regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and led to ongoing conflict in Libya. The Secretary-General noted that the two-State solution is in the best interest of both parties, and embodies their legitimate aspirations. “The Palestinians have the right to establish a sovereign, independent and viable State of their own. Israel has the right to live in peace and security within internationally recognized and secure borders,” he stated. “To achieve this and to overcome the current stalemate, it is important to avoid steps that might damage trust,” he added, appealing to the parties to return to negotiations without preconditions and without delay. The two-day meeting in the Belgian capital, organized by the General Assembly’s Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, aims at contributing to efforts at achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians by looking at the role of Europe in advancing a two-State solution. It will take stock of 20 years of European efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, as well as consider current political initiatives endorsed by the European Union, among other issues. “As a key member of the Quartet [the diplomatic grouping that advocates a two-State solution and comprises the UN, EU, Russia and the United States], the European Union must make its voice heard more clearly on the question of Palestine,” said Committee Chairman Abdou Salam Diallo, as he opened the meeting. “As the efforts of Palestine to obtain diplomatic recognition are gaining ground, we encourage the European countries which have not yet done so to recognize Palestine and its 1967 borders,” he added.“Those who think that the recognition of the State of Palestine by the United Nations General Assembly would ‘delegitimize’ Israel, or deal a mortal blow to the peace process, should be reminded that such recognition is already included in the Quartet’s Road Map and has been endorsed by all the parties concerned, including Israel,” stated Mr. Diallo.Stressing that the time has come for a change of direction, the Chairman appealed on behalf of the Committee for the EU to make greater efforts to lay the foundation for a just and sustainable peace in the Middle East.“The European Union has the historical legitimacy, the practical ability and the moral resources to succeed in this challenge.” 28 June 2011Citing the developments taking place in the wider Middle East, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today underscored the need for Israel and the Palestinians to urgently resume negotiations towards a two-State solution to their conflict.