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Quartet Calls for Settlement Freeze

The so-called Quartet of Middle East negotiators has demanded that Israel halt all settlement activity and denounced Israel's plan to build new housing in East Jerusalem.

A new housing project at the Israeli settlement of Har Homa in east Jerusalem. The Quartet for the Middle East has urged Israel to stop building settlements and set a target for a final deal with the Palestinians within two years. (AFP/File/Menahem Kahana) The Quartet's comments came at a news conference in Moscow on Friday, following a meeting by the group, which brings together the United Nations, the US, the EU and Russia.

Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, read a joint statement by the group, saying that the Quartet "urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activities".

In the statement, the Quartet condemned "the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem".

Ban also said that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians should result in the resolution of the conflict within 24 months, and expressed concern over the situation in the Gaza Strip.

Condemnation welcomed

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, welcomed the Quartet's condemnation of Israeli settlement building, but said that the Quartet needed to monitor Israeli activities on the ground.

"The Israelis have the choice now, either to continue with settlement activities or to engage with the peace process," he told Al Jazeera.

"We want the Quartet to have the Israeli government, to monitor their actions, to monitor their activities on the ground, because they're playing many games of deceit on the ground - they say now 'we're not going to announce more settlements, but we're going to continue with settlements'. That is deceit.

"The Quartet must have mechanisms for implementation and monitors on the ground to make sure that the Israeli government complies with its obligations originating from the [2003 peace talks] road map."

He said: "I don't think we can have a meaningful peace process without Israel stopping all settlement activities."

Growing tensions

Al Jazeera's Nour Odeh, speaking from the Qalandiya checkpoint in the occupied West Bank, said the Quartet's statement would likely fail to win over the Palestinians as it had not included any provision for intervention if Israel failed to comply.

"There were no concrete measures, which is what Palestinians want first and foremost. No statement from the Quartet that if the situation doesn't get better, or if the parties don't comply, the Quartet will take such-and-such action," she said.

"There's an increasing sentiment here [in the Palestinian territories] that without strong, effective third party intervention there won't be any movement on the ground.

"And if the deadlock continues politically the tension we are seeing here will only get much worse."

The Quartet meeting comes amid rising tensions between Israel and the US over Israel's plans to build 1,600 new settler homes, a move announced during a visit to the country by Joe Biden, the US vice-president.

Settlement spat

Settlement building in the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem is illegal under international law and has been one of the main stumbling blocks to talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Some senior US officials have called the timing of Israel's announcement an "insult".

In an apparent move to defuse tensions, a statement from the office of Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, said "mutual confidence-building measures"were being considered, but no details of those measures were given.

Netanyahu and Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, also reportedly discussed the issue in 45-minute phone call.

At the Quartet's news conference Clinton said that the phone conversation had been "useful and productive".

The Israeli settlement announcement prompted the Palestinians to pull out of indirect "proximity" talks meditated by the US.

The spat between Israel and the US has also delayed a visit to the region by George Mitchell, the US special envoy to the Middle East, but Clinton said the Mitchell's visit would still go ahead.

 Source: Al Jazeera and agenices
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