Representatives of the 14 council members stepped to the microphone outside the council chamber after its monthly Mideast briefing to denounce the Israeli settlement plans, which they warned are threatening a two-state settlement with the Palestinians. The move was clearly aimed at intensifying pressure on Israel and demonstrating the isolation of the United States on the issue.
Separately, Mr. Ban told reporters that Israel's heightened settlement activity "gravely threatens efforts to establish a viable Palestinian state."
"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 polarized than ever, and a two-state solution is farther away than at any time since the Oslo process began" in the 1990s.
Peace talks that resulted from the Oslo process have been frozen for four years, in large part because of the settlement issue. The Palestinians refuse to negotiate while Israel expands its settlements, which are now home to more than 500,000 Israelis.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to build thousands of homes in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital, 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.
The United States, 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. But the Obama administration is growing increasingly frustrated with recent Israeli announcements on new settlement activity and other issues clearly aimed at punishing the Palestinians for the General Assembly vote.
US officials made no statement Wednesday. But in a rare, stinging 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.
Mr. Mansour warned that with UN 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."
He did not elaborate but this could include the Palestinians seeking to join the International Criminal Court and then urging the tribunal to prosecute Israel.
Israel's UN Ambassador Ron Prosor accused Security Council members of ignoring the Syrian government's Scud missile and fighter jet attacks this week "to single out" plans to build "Jewish homes in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people. "
He said the major hurdle to peace is not settlements but the Palestinian insistence on the right of all Palestinians to return to Israel and its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Representatives of the 14 council members, however, stressed that settlements are a major hurdle.
A statement from the four European Union members – Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal – strongly opposed the Israeli plans, especially in a corridor known as E1 which would separate the West Bank from east Jerusalem, jeopardizing a contiguous Palestinian state and the possibility of Jerusalem as the future capital of both Israel and Palestine.
"The viability of the two-state solution is at stake and must be preserved," the EU statement said. "A bold demonstration of political will and leadership is needed from both sides to break the current impasse and resume negotiations."
India's UN Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri – speaking on behalf of the eight council members in the Nonaligned Movement – Morocco, Colombia, Togo, Pakistan, South Africa, Guatemala, and Azerbaijan – condemned the recent Israeli settlement plans as "the foremost obstacle to peace."
Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Israel's settlement activity especially in the E1 area and suspension of transferring tax and duty revenues to the Palestinians "put in question" the two-state solution, a view echoed by China's deputy ambassador Wang Min.
He also called for a ministerial meeting of the Quartet of Mideast mediators – the US, UN, European Union, and Russia – to be held "without delay" to discuss a way forward.