UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and members of the Security Council, except the United States, have criticised Israel for its plan of the construct thousands of new settlement homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

Representatives of the 14 council members called for an immediate halt to the settlement plans on Wednesday, which they warned are threatening the possibility of a two-state solution with Palestinians.

The Security Council's president, Morocco's UN Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki, said that the 14 countries made the statements individually because efforts to get the council to unanimously agree on a resolution or statement had failed.

Ban told reporters that Israel's heightened settlement activity "gravely threatens efforts to establish a viable Palestinian

"I call on Israel to refrain from continuing on this dangerous path,'' he said.

"The Middle East peace process is in a deep freeze,'' he said.

"The two sides seem more polarised than ever, and a two-state solution is farther away than at any time since the Oslo process began'' in the 1990s.

Peace talks between the two sides have been frozen for four years, in large part because of Israel's continuous construction of settlements.

Palestinian officials refuse to negotiate with Tel Aviv while Israel expands its settlements on Palestinian territories, which are now home to more than 500,000 Israelis.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the latest settlement plans in response to the UN General Assembly's decision last month to upgrade the Palestinians' status to a nonmember observer state.

Israel opposed UN recognition of a Palestinian state, saying it bypassed peace negotiations.

'Pattern of provocation'

The US, Israel's closest Mideast ally, voted against the Palestinian statehood resolution and vetoed a Security Council resolution backed by the 14 other members in February 2011 that would have urged a halt to all settlement building.

US officials made no statement on Wednesday.

But in a rare rebuke of a close ally, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Tuesday accused Israel of engaging in a "pattern of provocative action" that runs counter to the government's commitment to peace.

She said settlement activity puts the goal of peace "further at risk".

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN envoy, said Wednesday that the strong US statement indicated that "there is unanimity against settlement activity".

"Now, the ball is in the court of the Israelis,'' he said. Mansour warned that with U.N. recognition of the Palestinian state, if the Israelis continue to ignore the wishes of all of us, and if they continue to decide to destroy the two-state solution then we will be able to resort to all possible options available to us to defend ourselves and our people in a better way.''

Source: Agencies