UN says will engage Israel on 'realistic options' for talks

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations' new Middle East envoy said Tuesday that he and the U.N. secretary-general will engage Israel's new government to explore "realistic options" for a return to talks with the Palestinians aimed at a two-state solution within a reasonable time frame.

Nikolay Mladenov also used his first briefing to the U.N. Security Council to remind Israel that settlement activity is illegal under international law and to call on Israel's government to stop such actions.

The international community is looking for ways to revive talks after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said shortly before his re-election in March that he would not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state on his watch.

A French-proposed council resolution setting a framework for negotiations has been on hold as Israel's new government formed. It likely will see little progress until world powers complete nuclear talks with Iran by a deadline they have set for the end of June.

Even if that text moves forward, the United States, Israel's closest ally, has traditionally used its veto power as a permanent council member to block resolutions on the issue that it considers unbalanced.

Two decades of talks brokered mainly by the United States have failed to produce a two-state solution. The latest effort fell short last year after nine months of negotiations. Gaps between Israeli and Palestinian positions remain vast.

Frustrated by the stalled progress, the Palestinians in April officially joined the International Criminal Court in hopes of prosecuting Israel for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 50-day Gaza conflict last year.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda this month told The Associated Press that prosecutors also will look at other issues, potentially including Israel's settlement construction on occupied Palestinian lands.

Mladenov on Tuesday called for Israel's new government to freeze settlement activity and take other "credible steps" to help talks with the Palestinians resume.

"The coming period will be critical to the future of the peace process," he said, adding that any agreement will require a regional solution and "greater engagement with key Arab states."

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