Speculation that the longawaited Quartet report on the Middle East diplomatic process would place most of the blame for the current impasse on Israel failed to materialize Friday, as the Quartet released a document that did take Israel to task for settlement construction, but also slammed the Palestinians for incitement, violence and a failure to get Gaza under control.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying that Israel “welcomes the Quartet’s recognition of the centrality of Palestinian incitement and violence to the perpetuation of the conflict. This culture of hatred poisons minds and destroys lives and stands as the single greatest obstacle to progress toward peace.”
The statement pointed out that in the 24 hours prior to the publication of the report, Palestinian terrorists stabbed and shot innocent Israelis three times, killing two and leaving others wounded.
At the same time, the statement said that “the report also perpetuates the myth that Israeli construction in the West Bank is an obstacle to peace.
When Israel froze settlements, it did not get peace. When Israel uprooted every settlement in Gaza, it did not get peace. It got war.
“It is troubling that the Quartet appears to have adopted the position that the presence of Jews living in the West Bank somehow prevents reaching a two-state solution,” the Prime Minister’s Office continued.
“The presence of nearly 1.8 million Arabs in Israel isn’t a barrier to peace; it is a testament to our pluralism and commitment to equality.”
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The statement also noted favorably that the Quartet backs advancing peace through “direct, bilateral negotiations without preconditions.” This is in contrast to efforts to get the international community to move in and impose an agreement on the sides.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, meanwhile, issued a statement saying that the report “does not meet our expectations as a nation living under a foreign colonial military occupation, wherein it attempts to equalize the responsibilities between a people under occupation and a foreign military occupier.”
Erekat said that “evidently certain parties of the international community insist on trying to avoid their own legal and moral responsibilities to implement international law and conventions; to protect the Palestinian people; and to ensure the fulfillment of our right to self-determination.”
Noticeably, the section dealing with Palestinian terrorism and incitement preceded the section in the report criticizing Israel for its settlement policies.
The document, negotiated for months among representatives from the US, EU, Russia and UN, said that “continuing violence, terrorist attacks against civilians, and incitement to violence are greatly exacerbating mistrust and are fundamentally incompatible with a peaceful resolution.”
Then the document tackles the settlements.
“The continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution.”
And the third trend that it states as making the prospect of a two-state solution increasingly remote is the situation in the Gaza Strip.
“The illicit arms build-up and militant activity, continuing absence of Palestinian unity, and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza feed instability and ultimately impede efforts to achieve a negotiated solution,” it stated.
The Prime Minister’s Office said that Israel “rejects any attempt to draw moral equivalence between construction and terrorism.”
The report urged the need for “affirmative steps” to reverse each of those trends “in order to prevent entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict that is incompatible with realizing the national aspirations of both peoples.”
The report called for both sides to demonstrate through policies and actions a genuine commitment to a two-state solution.
Among its recommendations were the following:
• Both sides should work to deescalate tensions by exercising restraint and refraining from provocative actions and rhetoric;
• The Palestinian Authority should act decisively and take all steps within its capacity to cease incitement to violence and strengthen ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including by clearly condemning all acts of terrorism;
• Israel should cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, designating land for exclusive Israeli use, and denying Palestinian development;
• Israel should implement positive and significant policy shifts, including transferring powers and responsibilities in Area C, consistent with the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority contemplated by prior agreements;
• All sides must continue to respect the cease-fire in Gaza, and the illicit arms buildup and militant activities must be terminated;
• Israel should accelerate the lifting of movement and access restrictions to and from Gaza, with due consideration of its need to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks; and
• Gaza and the West Bank should be reunified under a single, legitimate and democratic Palestinian authority on the basis of the PLO platform and Quartet principles and the rule of law, including control over all armed personnel and weapons in accordance with existing agreements.
Regarding violence and incitement, the report said that “continuing violence, recent acts of terrorism against Israelis, and incitement to violence are fundamentally incompatible with advancing a peaceful two-state solution and are greatly exacerbating mistrust between the communities.
Upholding the commitment to act effectively against violence, terrorism and incitement is critical to rebuilding confidence and to avoiding escalation that will further undermine the prospects for peace.”
The report said that the terrorism contributes “to the sense among Israelis of living under constant threat.”
The report also mentioned “settler violence against Palestinians, including assaults, vandalism and the destruction of property.”
The report, which notes there has been a decline in these incidents over the last three years, said that “the overall conviction rate for Israeli extremists accused of violence remains significantly lower than for Palestinians.”
Israel, the Prime Minister’s Office statement responding to the document said, rejects “the parallels suggested between the campaign of Palestinian terrorism and the violence of marginal elements in Israeli society. The former is lauded by the Palestinian leadership.
The latter is utterly condemned and rejected by Israelis across the board.”
As to incitement, the report noted that Palestinians who commit terrorist attacks are “often glorified publicly as ‘heroic martyrs.’ Many widely circulated images depict individuals committing terrorist acts with slogans encouraging violence.”
Though it says that Hamas and other radical factions are responsible for the worst of the incitement, “some members of Fatah have publicly supported attacks and their perpetrators, as well as encouraged violent confrontation.
“Regrettably,” the report read, “Palestinian leaders have not consistently and clearly condemned specific terrorist attacks. And streets, squares and schools have been named after Palestinians who have committed acts of terrorism.”
The document also mentioned ”Death to Arabs” calls inside Israel by Israeli extremists, and some references in social media sites including “references to justifications for violence against Palestinians.”
As to “settlement expansion, land designations and denial of Palestinian development,” the report said that this was all “steadily eroding the viability of a 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,” the report read.
According to the report, 70 percent of Area C, which makes up 60% of the West Bank land, has “been unilaterally taken for exclusive Israeli use.” And most of the remaining 30% is off limits for Palestinian development, it stated.
As to settlement construction, the report said that since the beginning of the Oslo process, the settlement population has more than doubled, with 370,000 Israelis living is some 130 settlements, “including 85,000 deep in the West Bank.”
“Combined with some 200,000 in east Jerusalem, this brings the total settler population to at least 570,000,” the report read. “The policy of steadily constructing and expanding settlements and related infrastructure continues.
Between 2009 and 2014, the West Bank settler population increased by over 80,000, including at least 16,000 deep in the West Bank.”
The report also scored Israel for retroactively legalizing settlement outposts, and for the demolition of Palestinian structures built without permits.
As to the situation in Gaza, the report stated that the “illicit arms buildup and militant activity by Hamas, the lack of control of Gaza by the Palestinian Authority, and the dire humanitarian situation, exacerbated by the closures of the crossings, feed instability and ultimately impede efforts to achieve a negotiated solution.”
Preventing the use of Gaza for attacks against Israel “is a key commitment that is essential to long-term peace and security,” the report stated.
The arms buildup in Gaza, the building of tunnels, weapons smuggling and manufacturing of rockets “increase the risk of renewed conflict, divert resources from humanitarian efforts, and threaten the lives of civilians in Israel and Gaza.”
The report said that “reuniting the Palestinians under a single, democratic and legitimate Palestinian authority on the basis of the PLO platform and Quartet principles remains a priority. This is critical for the fulfillment of the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.”
The report also called on Israel to lift restrictions on external trade from Gaza and limits to access to fishing waters, which “contribute to food insecurity and humanitarian aid dependency.”
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