The United Nations and its diplomatic partners in the search for a Middle East peace today urged Israel to continue its settlement moratorium in the occupied Palestinian territory in the interests of resumed negotiations between the sides and called on Arab States to support the talks.
Voicing support for the first-to-face talks in 19 months, a statement issued after a high-level meeting of the Quartet – UN, European Union (EU), Russia and the United States – reiterated the long-held goal of ending the Israel occupation that began in 1967 and creating “an independent, democratic, contiguous, and viable Palestinian state” living side by side in peace and security with Israel.
“Noting that mutual trust and confidence are critical to successful negotiations, the Quartet reiterated its call on Israel and the Palestinians to promote an environment conducive to progress, including by refraining from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric,” the statement said.
“The Quartet noted that the commendable Israeli settlement moratorium instituted last November has had a positive impact and urged its continuation. The Quartet recalled that unilateral actions by either party, including settlement activity, cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community.”
The meeting – attended by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Quartet representative Tony Blair and US Middle East envoy George Mitchell – also looked at the wider Middle East context.
It called for Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese agreements, and urged Arab States to support Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and progress on the other tracks by taking bolder steps to foster positive relations throughout the region and to combat violence and extremism.
The Quartet reaffirmed its support for the Palestinian Authority's August 2009 plan for building the institutions of a Palestinian State within two years and commended the significant progress toward that goal.
It took particular note of the statement in the Economic Monitoring Report of the World Bank that “if the Palestinian Authority maintains its current performance in institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well-positioned for the establishment of a State at any point in the near future.”
The Quartet called on Israel to take further steps to facilitate Palestinian State-building and economic growth and welcomed measures Israel has already taken to improve day-to-day life for Palestinians, including the easing of restrictions on movement in the West Bank and improved Gaza access. It urged Arab States and the international community to provide immediate and sustained support for the Palestinian Authority.
It reiterated that the current situation in Gaza is not in the interests of Palestinians or Israelis, welcomed the easing of Israel’s blockade of the area and called for further efforts by all concerned to ensure the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods, and persons to and from Gaza while addressing Israel's legitimate security concerns.
It also reaffirmed its support for efforts to restore Palestinian unity based on the commitments of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, ousted the PLO’s Fatah movement in the Gaza Strip in 2007.
The Quartet condemned in the strongest possible terms continuing violence against Israeli and Palestinian civilians, in particular last month’s deadly attack on Israelis near the West Bank city of Hebron, for which Hamas claimed responsibility while threatening additional attacks.
“The Quartet urged a complete halt to all violence and reiterated its call on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and to respect international humanitarian and human rights law,” the statement added, repeating its calls for the immediate release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in 2006 in a Palestinian raid from Gaza into Israel.