UNITED NATIONS (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council has unanimously called for the creation of a separate Palestinian state in a vote that comes one week before a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama.
The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said Obama is determination to vigorously pursue "a comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors" in the months ahead.
Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, the current president of the council, meanwhile urged both Israel and Palestine to work toward that goal.
The Security Council said "urgent efforts" are needed to make a separate Palestinian state a reality and achieve an overall Middle East peace settlement.
In a statement agreed by all 15 members that was read out at the end of an open ministerial meeting, the UN body said "vigorous diplomatic" action was needed to reach a settlement and two-state solution.
It encouraged the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers -- the UN, United States, Russia, and European Union -- to continue their efforts to promote a comprehensive settlement.
The statement read, in part, that "the Council reiterates its call for renewed and urgent efforts by the parties and the international community to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, based on the vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, will live side by side in peace, within secure and recognized borders."
Lavrov, who chaired the council's session, said the statement signaled the UN's desire for peace in the region.
"The Security Council expressed in this statement its decisiveness to support further both sides in their movement toward peace," Lavrov said. "It is clear that only with mutual cooperation, abiding by the legal framework which is detailed in the statement, it is possible to succeed. The members of the council are asking both sides to resume their negotiations not from a clean slate, but keeping in mind the already adopted decisions by the council and the agreements they have already achieved on a bilateral basis."
Lavrov was asked about Russia's position on calls by Libya and Turkey for the Security Council to reach out to elected Palestinian leaders, notably Hamas.
"We continue our contacts with Hamas, actively we are urging them to concentrate their efforts on steps that reflect the fundamental interests of the Palestinian people," Lavrov responded. "One of the issues, of course, is the reestablishment of Palestinian unity. It is topic which also currently reverberates in a new way because only recently some countries were avoiding this topic altogether and were saying that they will communicate with only a small part of Palestinian society."
In its statement, the Security Council calls for the creation of a new Arab state in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza and the cessation of Jewish development in those same areas. Israel rejects involvement of the security council in what it sees as a bilateral issue.
Lavrov said that the political progress should be made not only on the Palestinian-Israel directions but also on the issues involving Syria and Lebanon.
"The members of the council expressed their support for an international Middle East conference in Moscow this year," Lavrov said. "The unilateral support for this initiative will undoubtedly help Russia in its continuing efforts to organize the Moscow Middle East forum on time and to bring it to fruition."
While the previous government in Tel Aviv, led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was largely committed to the goal of Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peaceful independent states -- as is called for in several Security Council resolutions -- Olmert’s successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, has expressed serious doubts about an independent Palestinian state.
Lavrov said Moscow is urging different fractions in Israeli politics to listen to the various voices.
"We are communicating with [Israeli Foreign Minister] Avigdor Lieberman, it is true, we are talking in Russian," Lavrov said. "But I would be cautious to make speedy conclusions what will be the final position of the Israeli government regarding the Middle East issues. The positions are being developed and our Israeli partners are attentively attuned to suggestions from various sources."
U.S. Ambassador Rice told the Security Council that the "moment should not be lost and that is why the United States and others are redoubling our efforts to achieve a lasting two-state solution."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner both criticized Israel for holding up food and medicine deliveries into Gaza.
Israel did not attend the Security Council's meeting.