Israel fears Obama administration adopting tougher stance against Judea and Samaria communities

The soon-to-be released Quartet report is sure to infuriate Israel, where officials are already bracing for expected criticism. Although the mediators will endorse some long-standing Palestinian positions, the Palestinians are likely to complain the report does not go far enough.

By: AP
Netanyahu Abbas

Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas (L) and PM Netanyhau in 2010. (AP/Charles Dharapak)

The United States will endorse a tougher tone with Israel in an upcoming report published by the Quartet, the group of four mediators involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN), Russia and the United States (US).  The report takes the Jewish state to task over Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, demolitions and property seizures of Palestinian assets, diplomats told The Associated Press.

The US and its fellow Mideast mediators also will chastise Palestinian leaders for failing to rein in anti-Israeli violence. But the diplomats involved in drafting the document said its primary focus will be a surge of construction in Jewish housing in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The US approval of the harsh language marks a subtle shift. Washington has traditionally tempered statements by the so-called “Quartet” of mediators with careful diplomatic language, but the diplomats said the US in this case will align itself closer to the positions of the other Quartet members, who [wrongly] emphasize Israel’s role in the Mideast impasse.

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The report’s release is sure to infuriate Israel, where officials are already bracing for expected criticism. And on the other side, although the mediators will endorse some long-standing Palestinian positions, the Palestinians are likely to complain the report does not go far enough.

Diplomats acknowledge the report, which could come out in late May or June, will be largely symbolic, requiring no action. It could be unveiled at the UN and possibly sent to the Security Council (UNSC) for an endorsement, according to the diplomats, who included three US officials. They all demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the unfinished work publicly.

The diplomats said the report is intended to highlight obstacles to a two-state peace agreement — the stated goal of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders — and offer recommendations for restarting negotiations in a process that is stalled.

One diplomat said the report would be “balanced” because it would criticize the Palestinians for incitement and violence against Israeli citizens. Near-daily attacks in recent months by Palestinians, mostly stabbings, have murdered 33 victims.

But the diplomat added that those involved in writing the report understand the focus on Israel will be its most contentious aspect.

Another diplomat said Israel will be put “on notice” that its appropriation of land isn’t going unnoticed.

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The document won’t look only at Israel’s activity in Jerusalem activity and the Judea and Samaria construction, but also at a “problematic trend” of legalizing smaller so-called outposts, the officials said. In addition, it will criticize Israel for a growing backlog of housing block approvals.

In 1972, there were just over 10,000 Israeli citizens, with 1,500 living in Judea and Samaria and the rest in east Jerusalem. Two decades later, by the time of the Oslo peace accords, there were 231,200 Israelis living in these areas. That number rose to 365,000 by 2000, when the second violent Palestinian uprising began, and 474,000 by the time Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel’s prime minister again in 2008.

The communities in Judea and Samaria are now home to more than 570,000 Israelis, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now — 370,000 in Judea and Samaria and 200,000 in Jerusalem.

Some 2.2 million Palestinians live in Judea and Samaria, with another 300,000 in east Jerusalem.

The Quartet – An Irrelevant Entity

The Quartet, which is supposed to guide the two parties to peace, has been largely irrelevant for the past several years.

It was created in 2002 at a low point in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and in the years since has held sporadic meetings. Most have ended with bland statements condemning violence, criticizing Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and calling for both sides to improve security and the atmosphere for peace talks.

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The new report will repeat those calls, but the diplomats said they hoped the new criticism of Israel, in particular, would jolt the parties into action.

The Palestinians recently put off their push for a new UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, in part because of the coming report, the diplomats said. And with anti-Israel sentiment growing in Europe, France may delay a planned May 30 meeting of foreign ministers on the situation.

The French also are talking about hosting a Mideast peace conference this summer. US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to discuss the French initiative with Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault while on a trip to Paris next week.