Foreign Secretary William Hague has called on Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table after the US vetoed a draft United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the building of settlements on occupied land.
Britain joined France, Germany and 11 other members of the Security Council in backing the Palestinian-tabled resolution but the USA used its blocking vote, as a permanent member of the 15-country council, to quash the draft, on the grounds that it risked hardening the position of both sides in peace negotiations.
The talks have been suspended since September over Israel's refusal to extend its 2010 moratorium on settlement building and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas' refusal to return to the table until the Israeli government halts construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Speaking after yesterday's vote, Mr Hague said: "I have made clear my serious concern about the current stalemate in the Middle East peace process.
"The UK voted with others, including France and Germany, to reinforce this and our long-standing view that settlements, including in East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace and constitute a threat to a two-state solution.
"We must not be diverted by events in the wider region from working towards a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We believe that Israel's security and the realisation of the Palestinians' right to statehood are not opposing goals. On the contrary they are intimately intertwined objectives.
"I call on both parties to return as soon as possible to direct negotiations towards a two-state solution, on the basis of clear parameters."
He added: "We therefore look to both parties to return to negotiations as soon as possible on this basis. Our goal remains an agreement on all final status issues and the welcoming of Palestine as a full member by September 2011. We will contribute to achieving this goal in any and every way that we can.
"We understand Israel's deep and justified security concerns. As friends of Israel, we share those concerns, and will strive with Israel to preserve her security and the stability of the region around her.
"It is precisely because of those concerns that we vote in favour of this resolution.
"We believe a peaceful and safe future for Israel is best secured through a peace with the Palestinians that in turn can lead to peace with the entire region, and indeed will strengthen the stability of the region. We believe that Israel will be better able to face and tackle wider threats if it is at peace with the Palestinians. And so we regret anything which sets back the prospects for peace because we believe it also sets back Israel's security."