Israel concerned about expected US settlement criticism

New Quartet report will attack Israel’s West Bank policies.

May 9, 2016 02:45
4 minute read.
West Bank

Efrat settlement, West Bank. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The Quartet – the international entity charged with brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians comprised of the US, European Union, Russia, and the United Nations -- will issue a new report at the end of the month that is expected to be sharply critical of the expansion of Israel’s construction in areas it acquired in the 1967 war.

While the report will not reflect a change in the American position, Israeli diplomats and analysts say it is the expected shift in emphasis that concerns Jerusalem.

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According to press reports, the report will come down hard on Israel for continuing to build new housing units in the West Bank on land that Palestinians say must be part of a Palestinian state, as well as Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes that are either built illegally or housed Palestinians convicted of attacks on Israelis.

It will also criticize the Palestinian Authority for failing to do more to stop attacks on Israelis, but the reports say that the primary focus will be on Israel.

“It is not a sea change but an incremental change,” Robbie Sabel, professor of international law at Hebrew University told The Media Line. “The real danger is it could pave the way for a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel on this.”

Israeli officials did not want to comment until the report is actually published. But they said that Israel’s position has not changed.

“We have expressed our position many times,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon told The Media Line. “We would like to see a return to direct negotiations (with the Palestinians) where we can discuss all outstanding issues including settlements.

Everything else is not useful as it simply encourages the Palestinians not to negotiate.” The US and Israel have long disagreed about Israel’s construction on post-1967 land.

Washington, through multiple administrations of both Republicans and Democrats, has long maintained that “settlements are an obstacle to peace” and has urged Israel to stop construction. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has responded that Israel has not built any new settlements, and is only expanding in built-up areas that will be part of Israel in any future peace deal.

Palestinians, however, say that Israel’s continued construction in these areas makes a future Palestinian state impossible. In the past few years, Palestinians have abandoned direct talks with Israel and focused on trying to achieve statehood via the international community, in particular using UN-affiliated organizations and international treaties.

The report comes as France is taking a more active role in the Middle East peace process, hosting a summit of foreign ministers at the end of this month, and a possible peace conference later in the summer. Privately, Israeli diplomats said that harsh US criticism of Israel could weaken Israel’s position at that peace conference.

The dovish Peace Now group says that in 1972 there were just over 10,000 residents of Jewish communities in the West Bank and east Jerusalem -- both areas that Palestinians claim for a future state. Israel, however, says that the number of Jewish residents of east Jerusalem should not be included as Israel has annexed the area – an act virtually unrecognized in the international community.

By 1993, the time of the Oslo peace accords, there were more than 231,000 Israelis living in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and the current total is now 570,000 including 370,000 in the West Bank and 200,000 in east Jerusalem. An estimated 2.2 million Palestinians live in the West Bank with another 300,000 in east Jerusalem.

A recent point of contention cited by the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, is a report that the defense ministry plans to build a new community near the town of Shilo, between the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Nablus.

According to the newspaper, the community will be built to house Israelis from the unauthorized outpost of Amona, which is located on private Palestinian land. The report said the community will have more than 100 housing units.

International law professor Robbie Sabel says that the fact that Israel has not established any new communities was something Israel could use in its favor in any controversy with the international community. If the report proves true, and Israel does build a new community, Israel will be in for strong criticism.

Israeli diplomats are trying to affect the language of the quartet report to make it less critical of Israel. In the end, Sabel says, there’s little they can do. At the same time, he said, it seems ludicrous to focus on Israeli violations of international law and human rights in Israel at this time.

“If you look around the Middle East today, this focus is out of all proportion with human rights violations in other areas (like Syria and Iraq),” he said.

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