The foreign ministers of the Quartet on the Middle East – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – asserted in a report released on Friday afternoon that the current track taken by the Israelis and Palestinians has distanced the possibility of a two-state solution, creating a situation in which a one-state reality has taken root.
The report calls on the Palestinian Authority to stop incitement, step up efforts to stop terrorism and condemn attacks against Israelis. It calls on Israel to stop settlement construction and put a stop to the gradual takeover of Area C in the West Bank.
Members of the Quartet decided to compile the report during a foreign ministers' meeting in February. The decision was taken against the backdrop of the French peace bid, with the Quartet seeking to stop France from taking over the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the international arena. However, the two parallel initiatives grew more coordinated and complementary in recent weeks.
The report was written by senior diplomats representing the members of the Quartet – the American special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Frank Lowenstein, European envoy Fernando Gentilini, United Nations envoy Nikolai Mladenov and Russian envoy Sergey Vershinin.
Dozens of drafts were drawn up during the writing process, with changes being made to the report until only a few days before its release. Eventually it was approved unanimously by the four envoys and the four foreign ministers.
Over the course of the past few months, Israel and the Palestinians both attempted to influence the contents of the report, transferring documents to the Quartet envoys and holding meetings with them. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself held active contacts with the Quartet's foreign ministers in an effort to soften the report's criticism of Israeli policy.
Senior Israeli officials and western diplomats stressed that despite the report's strong criticism of Israel and its policies in the occupied territories, the final version of the report was more balanced and its wording milder than the drafts that had been discussed until a few weeks ago.
The first part of the report deals with violence and incitement, levelling sharp criticism at the Palestinian Authority and its head, Mahmoud Abbas, for not doing enough to fight terror, stop incitement and condemn attacks.
"Continuing violence, recent acts of terrorism against Israelis, and incitement to violence are fundamentally incompatible with advancing a peaceful two-state solution and are greatly exacerbating mistrust between the communities," the report says.
"Upholding the commitment to act effectively against violence, terrorism, and incitement is critical to rebuilding confidence and to avoiding escalation that will further undermine the prospects for peace."
The members of the Quartet state in the report that Palestinians who carry out terror attacks are too often depicted as heroes in the Palestinian media and on social media. The influence of such incitement against Israel, which has increased since 2015, is seen mainly on Palestinian youth, according to the report.
It determines that Hamas and other radical Palestinian movements are mainly responsible for the incitement, though it doesn't let Abbas' Fatah movement off the hook.
"Some members of Fatah have publicly supported attacks and their perpetrators, as well as encouraged violent confrontation," the report says. "The Palestinian Authority leadership has repeatedly made statements expressing opposition to violence against civilians and senior officials have publicly maintained a commitment to non-violent resistance."
Regrettably, however, Palestinian leaders have not consistently and clearly condemned specific terrorist attacks. And streets, squares and schools have been named after Palestinians who have committed acts of terrorism."
The report goes on to state that there is also incitement on the Israeli side, mentioning the "price tag" attacks of Israeli extremists, the calls of "death to Arabs" and the justifications for attacks on Arabs that appear on social media.
The report notes the decline in terror attacks in 2016 from their peak in 2015, attributing it to more effective action by the Palestinian security apparatus in preventing attacks.
The foreign ministers call on both Israel and the Palestinians to continue their security coordination, because it plays a significant role in reducing attacks.
The report goes on to say that Israel's severe responses to attacks could increase the tension. "Some senior Israeli security officials have expressed concern about cases, including several captured on video, in which excessive force appeared to be used when there was no immediate threat," it says. "One soldier has been indicted for manslaughter."
Despite the decline in settler violence against the Palestinians in 2016, the issue is still cause for concern, the report continues. Despite the increased vigilance of the Israeli government concerning settler violence against Palestinians, the number of Israeli extremists indicted is substantially lower than that of Palestinians, in relative terms.
The Quartet's report recommends a variety of steps that both sides need to take, the first of which is to reduce tension, maintain restraint and avoid provocative actions and statements.
"Both sides should take all necessary steps to prevent violence and protect the lives and property of all civilians, including through continuing security coordination and strengthening the capacity, capability and authority of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces," the report says.
"The Palestinian Authority should act decisively and take all steps within its capacity to cease incitement to violence and strengthen ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including by clearly condemning all acts of terrorism."
The second part of the report deals with the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
It says that continued construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the rise in the number of Palestinian homes that are demolished and the prevention of all Palestinian development in Area C are "steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution."
"This raises legitimate questions about Israels long-term intentions," the report states.
Those question marks are buttressed, it says, by the statements of some government ministers to the effect that the establishment of a Palestinian state will never be allowed.
Despite previous agreements, the Quartet members state, the transfer of civilian authority to the Palestinians in Area C has ceased completely and in some cases even retrogressed.
They warn that if the transfer of civilian authority to the Palestinians in Area C is not restarted, a reality of one state for two people is likely to be created on the ground.
The report says that Area C, in which Israel has full military and civilian control, comprises 60 percent of the West Bank and is meant to be the central land reserve for the future Palestinian state.
Today, the report states, Israel has unilaterally seized over 70 percent of Area C and defined it as area solely for Israeli use.
"Nearly all of the remaining 30 percent of Area C, much of which is private Palestinian property, is effectively off limits for Palestinian development because it requires permits from the Israeli military authorities that are almost never granted," it says.
The report estimates that the number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has doubled since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. There are currently 370,000 Israelis living in West Bank settlements, 85,000 of them in isolated settlements deep inside the territory.
Some 200,000 additional Israelis live in Jerusalem residential areas across the Green Line, bringing the total number of settlers to some 570,000.
According to the report, the approval of plans for new construction in the settlements and the implementation of already-approved plans have slowed since mid-2014. However, the pace of construction remains unchanged, based on the many plans that were approved in the past and not fully implemented.
Data presented in the report indicates that Israel does not allow any Palestinian development in Area C. For example, Israel granted approval for only one Palestinian building initiative in 2014 and none in 2015. Between 2009 and 2013, 34 construction permits were issued to Palestinians in Area C, out of 2,000 applications.
"As Palestinians are consistently denied permits to build legally, they are left with few options but to build without permits," the report states.
In the report's recommendations, the Quartet's foreign ministers call on Israel to implement a drastic change in policy regarding construction in settlements and in Area C.
"Israel should cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, designating land for exclusive Israeli use, and denying Palestinian development," the report states.
"Israel should implement positive and significant policy shifts, including transferring powers and responsibilities in Area C, consistent with the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority contemplated by prior agreements.
Progress in the areas of housing, water, energy, communications, agriculture, and natural resources, along with significantly easing Palestinian movement restrictions, can be made while respecting Israel's legitimate security needs."
It will only be possible to achieve a two-state solution if steps are taken to change the direction in which both sides are moving, according to the Quartet. Only thus will it be possible "to prevent entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict."
The report also states that a permanent settlement can only be achieved in direct, bilateral negotiations between the two sides. The international community, it adds, will not recognize unilateral steps designed to determine the final outcome.
That said, the report encourages the two sides to take steps on the ground that would make it easier to reach an agreement in the future and create an atmosphere that would make it possible to renew negotiations between the sides.
"The Quartet calls on each side to independently demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to the two-state solution," the report says.
The foreign ministers do not call on the sides to immediately resume negotiations. Instead, they refer favorably to a number of diplomatic initiatives that are currently on the table – the Arab Peace Initiative, the French initiative and the call by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for a regional peace initiative.
"The Quartet stresses the significance of the Arab Peace Initiative (API)in that context, the opportunity for building a regional security framework, and encourages further dialogue on that basis. In this regard, the Quartet welcomes the call by the Egyptian President to Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab leaders to follow the historic path towards peace taken by Israel and Egypt 37 years ago.
"Another part of the report dealt with the situation in the Gaza Strip. The Quartet warned that the humanitarian situation in the strip, the delay in rehabilitating Gazam the continued acquisition of weapons by Hamas and other organizations and the absence of any Palestinian Authority presence all endanger the continuation of the ceasefire and are liable to lead to a new war."
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