Quartet calls for end to Israeli settlement construction

Israeli Settlements

Israeli Settlements

Israel should stop building settlements, denying Palestinian development and designating land for exclusive Israeli use that Palestinians seek for a future state, the Middle East peace “Quartet” said Friday in an eagerly awaited report.

The report by the Quartet entities sponsoring the stalled peace process – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – said the Israeli policy “is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution”.

“This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by the statements of some Israeli ministers that there should never be a Palestinian state,” according to the eight-page report.

Amid a spike in violence, the Quartet criticised Palestinian leaders for “not consistently and clearly” condemning terrorist attacks and said illicit arms build up and militant activities in Gaza – controlled by Islamist group Hamas – must stop.

On Friday, an Israeli family car came under Palestinian gunfire near the Jewish settlement of Ottniel and crashed, killing a man, medics said. In the nearby city of Hebron, Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian woman who they said tried to stab one of them after she was detained.

Diplomatic sources said the report carries significant political weight as it has the backing of close Israeli ally the United States, which has struggled to revive the peace talks amid tensions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama.

Relations between the rightist Israeli leader and the Democratic president have yet to recover from their feud over last year’s US-led nuclear deal with Israeli foe Iran.

Netanyahu’s office welcomed some aspects of the Quartet report but said Israel took issue with numerous factual and policy assertions. The report also “perpetuates the myth that Israeli construction in the West Bank is an obstacle to peace”, the statement said.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, the spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, expressed disappointment with the Quartet report.

“Any report that does not include the full withdrawal to the 1967 borders, including occupied Jerusalem, and does not include a recognition of the illegality of settlement will not lead to real and lasting peace and will lead to more tension and more instability in the region,” he said in a statement.

UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov briefed the UN Security Council on Thursday on the report and said it would be up to the council and the international community to use the report to decide the way forward.

A senior US State Department official said on Friday: “We are open to having the Security Council welcome the report but that’s all at this point. We’re not looking for serious, substantive, UN Security Council action on this report.”

Israel slaps closure on Hebron

The report’s release came as the Israeli army imposed a closure on and around the West Bank city of Hebron, following a series of deadly attacks in the region.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said the army was also deploying hundreds more soldiers in Hebron, in the “most substantial steps on the ground” since 2014, after two Israelis were killed in the region in separate attacks over the past two days.

The announcement came hours after suspected Palestinian gunmen shot at the car of an Israeli family south of Hebron, killing the father and wounding three others, and a day after a 13-year-old girl was stabbed to death in her home in the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba.

Lerner could not say how long the measure would last, noting that in the recent wave of violence approximately 80 attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians and security forces “originated in the Hebron area”.

At least 214 Palestinians, 34 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese have been killed since the violence erupted in October.

Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, Israeli authorities say.