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Aid Agencies Say Peace Efforts by Middle East Quartet Failing


A coalition of 21 international aid agencies says in a new report the Middle East Quartet is failing in its efforts to improve the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The report was released on the eve of the Quartet's next meeting in New York and VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details.

The major aid agencies, including CARE, Oxfam International, Save the Children and World Vision are warning that the Quartet's efforts to improve the situation surrounding key aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are failing, which is harming hopes for a peace agreement by the end of this year.

That goal was set nearly a year ago at a Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland and the aid groups say many conditions necessary to bring about successful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have deteriorated since that time.

Juliette Seibold, a Jerusalem-based representative of CARE International and a spokeswoman for the aid groups, says one example is the continued growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

"We know that the Quartet has spoken out about settlement construction 18 times and yet settlement expansion continues," she said. "It is taking a drastic toll on Palestinian daily life. It takes away Palestinian land and uses precious water resources."

Seibold says the Quartet set other goals, such as improving the mobility of Palestinians in the West Bank.

She says, however, restrictions such as checkpoints have increased since the Annapolis conference.

The aid agencies say a near total blockade of the Gaza Strip has left 80 percent of the Palestinian population there wholly or partially dependent on foreign aid.

Seibold says the Quartet, which consists of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, needs to pressure all parties to comply with their obligations under the peace process and international humanitarian law.

"The Quartet knows how to apply the levers that ensure accountability," she said. "They do it in other areas of the world and they need to have a radical rethink on how to ensure accountability in relation to the West Bank, Gaza and Israel."

The report by the humanitarian and development agencies focuses mainly on the Quartet and not Israel's role in the peace process.

Juliette Seibold of CARE International points out that with the recent resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert the political situation in the Jewish state remains in flux.

"We need to be patient with Israel," said Seibold. "We need to reassure Israelis that we are concerned for their security, but at the same time actions need to be taken to improve the lives of ordinary citizens in the West Bank and Gaza."

Seibold says hopes for a peace agreement by the end of this year are rapidly diminishing.

"Well I think if we do not create the conditions that are right on the ground for peace it is going to fail," she said. "And I think everyone would agree that stability and security and economic prosperity are a prerequisite to holding good, productive, peaceful negotiations."

While Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have met numerous times since last year's Annapolis conference, little progress has been made.

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