Quartet tells Israel to halt settlement activity

MOSCOW: The Quartet for the Middle East today urged Israel to stop building settlements and set a target for a final deal with the Palestinians within two years.

The Israeli announcement of the construction of 1,600 new settler homes led the Palestinians to call for a halt to peace talks and precipitated the worst crisis in US-Israeli relations in years.

“The Quartet urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said after the meeting of the Quartet of the United

States, the United Nations, European Union and Russia.

He said at the meeting hosted by Russia in Moscow that Israel should also halt natural settlement growth, dismantle outposts erected since March 2001 and refrain from demolitions and evictions in east Jerusalem.

East Jerusalem is the mainly Arab half of the Holy City which was annexed by Israel after a war in 1967.

The Quartet “reaffirms that

unilateral actions taken by either

party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognised by the international community,” Ban added.

With the peace process stagnant, the Quartet also urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks on final status issues with the aim of finding a settlement within the next 24 months, Ban said.

He said such a settlement would end “the occupation which began in 1967 and result in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours.” The timing of Israel’s settlement announcement had infuriated Washington — Israel’s chief ally — coming as US Vice President Joe Biden visited the region.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Clinton late Thursday, US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said, following a tense call last week when Clinton had asked Netanyahu to order a halt to the settler plans.

Clinton on Friday described the relationship between Israel and the United States as “deep and broad, strong and enduring”.

She said however that the United States stood behind the Quartet’s call for a freeze on all settlement activity.

“We all condemn the (settlement) announcement and we are all expecting both parties to move towards the proximity talks,” Clinton said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat welcomed the Quartet’s call, but asked also for a mechanism to “make sure that Israel does effectively halt completely all settlement activity in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.” “We welcome the statement and we urge the Quartet to turn its statements into binding mechanisms on the ground so that Israel honours its commitments, above all halting all settlement activity in all the Palestinian territories,” Erakat said.