Israel told to cease settlement activity

20/3/10; (3 Items)

US secretary of state Hilary Clinton joined the rest of the Middle East Quartet in strongly condemning Israel’s settlements in East Jerusalem. (Reuters: Alexander Natruskin) The Middle East Quartet has urged Israel to stop building settlements and set a bold target for a final peace deal with the Palestinians by 2012. “The Quartet urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity,” UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said after the meeting comprising representatives of the United States, the United Nations, European Union and Russia. But the Israeli government, which angered the international community by announcing last week the construction of 1,600 new settler homes in east Jerusalem, swiftly condemned the statement as counterproductive.


Call for freeze on Jewish dwellings
Jason Koutsoukis; 20/3/10;
The Sydney Morning Herald, No Internet Text
The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators yesterday called on Israel to freeze construction of Jewish dwellings on Palestinian land and urged the resumption of peace talks to resolve the decades-old conflict. At a press conference in Moscow, the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the US expressed deep concern about the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said new Israeli- Palestinian talks should lead to a peace agreement within two years. “The Quartet urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, dismantle out-posts erected since March 2001 and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem,” he said.
The meeting of the Quartet came after the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pledged to implement a series of trust-building measures with the Palestinians in an attempt to mend his fractured relationship with the US.
The assurances came as police in Jerusalem prepared for another day of rioting by Palestinian protesters, and the air force bombed six targets in the Gaza Strip following a rocket attack that killed a Thai citizen working in southern Israel.
In a phone call with the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, on Thursday, Mr Netanyahu said Israel was serious about resuming peace talks with the Palestinians.
In order to encourage the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, back to the negotiating table, Mr Netanyahu has reportedly undertaken to release some of the estimated 6000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons for political reasons.
He also raised the possibility of removing some of the more than 500 Israeli military checkpoints that impede the movement of Palestinians around the West Bank, and signalled a willingness to discuss the possibility of transferring more land to the control of the Palestinian Authority.
Israel’s relationship with the US has been under pressure since a visit to Jerusalem by the Vice- President, Joe Biden, this month was upstaged by the announcement that Israel had approved 1600 apartments for Jewish settlers on Palestinian land.
Since taking office in January last year, the US President, Barack Obama, has taken a hard line against Israel’s settlement policy, demanding that it halt all construction until it concludes a final peace agreement with the Palestinians about defined borders.
In an interview to be aired on the US network ABC on Friday, Mr Biden called Israel’s decision to approve the 1600 new homes “provocative”, adding that it was “obviously designed by some in Israel to undermine a peace process George Mitchell finally got – our negotiator – finally got back on track”.

A friend sees both sides
Greg Sheridan (“There’s scope, and hope, for closer ties with Israel”, Commentary, 18/3) proposes Australia adopt a diplomatic position uncritical of Israel. He contends “Australia changed its vote from oppose to abstain at the UN on a resolution requiring Israel and Hamas to investigate war crimes as demanded in the widely discredited Goldstone report.” Further he writes, “This was a clear if unstated punishment of Israel for the passports breach.” Rather than abstaining in the vote, a sound case could be made that Australia should have voted for the resolution on the basis of a high likelihood atrocities were committed during Israel’s incursion into Gaza in January 2009. Surely a good friend, and that is what we are to Israel, should not provide unconditional support, particularly in a case where Israel refuses to conduct an open and transparent investigation. Jim Laffer, Bassendean, WA
See: There’s scope, and hope, for closer ties with Israel; Greg Sheridan;