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Quartet Calls for Settlement Freeze


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)

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.

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.

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

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

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.

Al Jazeera and agenices

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