BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Both Palestinian and Israeli leadership reacted with disappointment to a report released Friday by the Middle East Quartet -- the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations -- that attempted to underscore the major impediments to a two-state solution.
Israel’s continued expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian territory was cited in the report as one of the major obstacles to implementing a viable two-state solution, stating that their continued expansion has raised “legitimate questions” about Israel’s “long-term intentions,” as Israeli leaders have openly rejected the idea of an independent Palestinian state.
The Quartet called on both Israelis and Palestinians to “independently demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to the two-state solution and refrain from unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations.”
In addition to Israel's settlement expansion, the report highlighted two other main trends that undermined peace: violence and incitement on both sides, as well as and the Palestinian Authority's lack of control over the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat criticized the report in a statement, saying that the report “does not meet our expectations as a nation living under a foreign colonial military occupation; wherein it attempts to equalize the responsibilities between a people under occupation and a foreign military occupier.”
“Evidently, certain parties of the international community insist on trying to avoid their own legal and moral responsibilities to implement international law and conventions; to protect the Palestinian people and to ensure the fulfillment of our right to self-determination,” Erekat said.
He also insisted that negotiations must hold an independent Palestinian state at its core, with East Jerusalem as its capital and the restoration of internationally recognized rights afforded to Palestinians, as he reiterated his support for the Arab Peace Initiative and the multilateral French-led peace initiative, for which the report was expected to form a basis.
Meanwhile, Israeli human rights watchdog Peace Now said in a statement that the report showcased the contradictions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies of settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian territory with his public support for a two-state solution during peace negotiations.
“If the Israeli government is interested in peace it must halt settlement expansion immediately. Otherwise, it must reveal its true intentions and face the consequences,” the statement read.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement following the publication of the report, slamming the Middle East Quartet for “perpetuating the myth that Israeli construction in the West Bank is an obstacle to peace.”
Netanyahu said Israel rejected “any attempt to draw moral equivalence between (illegal Israeli settlement) construction, and terrorism,” and rejected parallels suggested in the report between Palestinian attacks and “marginal” elements in Israeli society, likely referring to an increasingly hostile and violent Israeli settler population.
The statement said that the report was “troubling” for its adoption of a position that the presence of Jews living in the West Bank was somehow an obstacle to the two-state solution.
“The presence of nearly 1.8 million Arabs in Israel isn’t a barrier to peace; it is a testament to our pluralism and commitment to equality,” Netanyahu argued, a statement many reacted to with outrage for ironically making a dubious parallel between Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and Israelis residing in settlements deemed illegal under international law.
The statement also condemned the Quartet’s report for failing to mention “payments made by the Palestinian Authority to terrorists and their families,” referring to stipends paid by the PLO to Palestinian political prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. Israel deems most Palestinian political groups to be terrorist organizations.
While the Palestinian Authority has said they have stopped paying the stipends, Israel ordered yesterday they will reduce tax transfers
sent to the PA each month by $130 million, a figure said to be equal to salaries.
The move was made in a punitive reaction to a series of attacks and attempted attacks by Palestinians against Israeli targets in the occupied West Bank district of Hebron and Israel on Thursday and Friday that left two Israelis killed, including a 13-year old settler with American citizenship, and three Palestinians shot dead on the scene.