By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Wednesday that Israel needs to stick with the Middle East peace process to remain a democracy after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abandoned a commitment ahead of his re-election to negotiate a Palestinian state.
In the final days of campaigning before Israeli voters went to the polls on Tuesday, Netanyahu said he would not permit a Palestinian state to be created under his watch and also promised to go on building settlements on occupied land.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon believes the peace process, including an end to illegal settlement building, is "the best and only way forward for Israel to remain a democratic state," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters.
Palestinians seek a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 War.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor responded: "The United Nations may disagree with the policies of the Israeli government, but there is one fact that can't be disputed - that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East."
"If the U.N. is so concerned about the future of the Palestinian people, it should be asking why President (Mahmoud) Abbas is in the tenth year of a five-year presidential term," Proser said in a statement.
Ban welcomed the preliminary results of Israel's election and hoped for the rapid establishment of a government, said Haq.
"It is incumbent on the new Israeli government, once formed, to create the conditions for a negotiated final peace agreement, with the active engagement of the international community, that will end the Israeli occupation and realize the creation of a viable Palestinian state, living in peace and security alongside Israel," Haq said.
Ban again urged Israel to resume transfer of tax revenue to the Palestinians. Israel is withholding critical tax revenue in retaliation for Palestinian moves to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Ken Wills)