New York: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has launched an impassioned plea urging Israelis and Palestinians to take up an "historic challenge" and compromise to secure a two-state solution.
"A lasting agreement will require difficult compromises by both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders," Ban told the UN Security Council late Tuesday.
"What are the alternatives? The continuing deadly wave of terror attacks and killings? The possible financial collapse of the Palestinian government? Ever greater isolation of the Israeli government?"
Ban condemned Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians, including stabbings, vehicle attacks and shootings.
But he underlined the mounting Palestinian frustration at a half century of occupation and called on Israel to change its settlement and other policies.
"It is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism," he said.
A worsening of the already dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza, "the agonising build-up to another terrible war" and "a creeping moral blindness that ignores the suffering of one's neighbour" loomed unless the two sides comprised for peace, Ban said.
"The parties must act - and act now - to prevent the two-state solution from slipping away forever," he stated, calling on the international community to support Palestinian and Israeli efforts for peace.
More than 180 people have been killed - 155 of them Palestinians - in near-daily series of attacks since October, mainly stabbings, on Israelis by Palestinians.
Israel accuses Palestinian leaders and Islamist groups of inciting the violence, which Palestinians blame on the continued occupation by Israel of the West Bank and the failure of the Middle East peace process.
Ban called for a freeze of "provocative" settlement activities by Israel.
"Progress towards peace requires a freeze of Israel's settlement enterprise. Continued settlement activities are an affront to the Palestinian people and to the international community," he said.
Israel's settlement programme also raised fundamental questions about the Jewish State's commitment to a two-state solution, Ban added.
He was referring to the internationally backed plan for two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace within secure borders.
Ban acknowledged Israel's indisputable right to exist and its security concerns but reiterated the urgent need to strengthen Palestinian institutions, security and economic prospects.
The West Bank and Gaza should be reunited under a single Palestinian authority, Ban said.