The international Quartet of Middle East peacemakers warned Friday that Israel’s settlement policy was harming the chances of a peace agreement, and urged both sides to show restraint in the face of a renewal of violent Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
“The Quartet emphasized its strong opposition to ongoing settlement activity, which is an obstacle to peace, and expressed its grave concern that the acceleration of settlement construction and expansion in Area C [parts of the West Bank under Israeli civilian and security control] and East Jerusalem,” said a statement Friday from the foursome, which comprises the US, European Union, Russia and United Nations.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini issued the statement after meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
The four top diplomats urged Israel and the Palestinians to create conditions for restarting “meaningful” negotiations toward a two-state solution. For the Israelis, this means a halt to settlement construction. For the Palestinians, it means an end to incitement of violence.
The statement singled out “the retroactive ‘legalization’ of existing [settlement] units, and the continued high rate of demolitions of Palestinian structures,” which it said is “steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution.”
The group said it “condemned the recent resurgence of violence and called on all sides to take all necessary steps to de-escalate tensions by exercising restraint, preventing incitement, refraining from provocative actions and rhetoric, and protecting the lives and property of all civilians.”
The four were joined for the latter part of their discussion by the foreign ministers of Egypt and France, whose countries have each proposed ideas to restart talks. According to the Quartet, “All agreed on the importance of close and continuing coordination of all efforts to achieve the common goal of the two-state solution.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, whose country plans to hold a peace conference by the end of the year, warned that the path to peace was narrowing, but did still exist.
“Our goal is still the same: It’s to organize an international conference before the end of the year with both parties present,” he told reporters.
“It’s true that listening to [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s speeches at the UN, you can’t say their views are converging … but we can’t accept the fait accompli. That would lead to despair and violence,” Ayrault said, according to Reuters.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has also offered to play a greater mediating role in the conflict and to seek a solution under a revived version of a 2002 plan that would see more Arab countries recognize Israel in exchange for it ceding Palestinian land.
Washington, in particular, has been hesitant to endorse a French role on what has traditionally been US diplomatic turf. But with the conflict on the ground only getting worse, the US has agreed to welcome fresh ideas.
The foursome also highlighted the humanitarian plight in the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by the Hamas terrorist group since 2007, whose borders are tightly controlled by Israel and Egypt.
“The Quartet expressed serious concern for the continuing dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, exacerbated by the closures of the crossings as well as for the illicit arms build-up and activity by militant Palestinian groups, including rockets fired towards Israel, which increase the risk of renewed conflict,” the statement said. It called on Hamas and Abbas’s rival Fatah movement to work towards “Palestinian national unity.”