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Quartet Urges Extension of Israeli Settlement Moratorium


Major world powers meeting at the United Nations Tuesday urged Israel to extend its moratorium on most West Bank settlement building. The international Middle East Quartet voiced strong support for the new set of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began this month.

The international Middle East Quartet has added its voice to those urging Israel to extend the self-declared moratorium on West Bank settlement activity that is due to expire at the end of the month.

The four-power grouping, consisting of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, was formed in 2002 to advance the regional peace process and issued a road map to a peace accord a year later.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly warned his delegation will quit the U.S.-brokered direct talks unless the 10-month old moratorium is extended.

In a joint statement after their meeting at U.N. headquarters, the quartet principals including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the commendable moratorium has had a positive impact on peace efforts and should be continued.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was more emphatic in a talk with reporters, saying all 27 European Union countries are exerting diplomatic pressure to get an extension.

"We are against the settlements," said Bernard Kouchner. "And really, we press and pray our Israeli friends to stop, to follow to go on moratorium and to stop settlements. We need that. Otherwise, the Palestinians were very clear they want to stop the talks, the negotiations, and the dialogue. And it will be impossible to support."

Secretary Clinton, who took part last week in sessions of the direct talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt and Jerusalem, urged support for the peace process Tuesday in a joint meeting here with Arab League foreign ministers and separate meetings with her Libyan and Qatari counterparts.

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, meanwhile, held a joint working-level meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials in an effort to arrange the next leaders meeting of Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said while the United States and its Quartet partners are encouraging the parties to overcome the settlements issue and continue the process, a peace accord cannot be imposed on them.

"Ultimately this has to be something that they believe in and are willing to commit to, and overcome obstacles and reach an agreement," said P.J. Crowley. "All we can do is remind them, as Secretary Clinton emphasized last week, that absent this process and absent an agreement, there is no security for Israel and there is no state for the Palestinians."

The Quartet statement urged the two parties to refrain from provocations and inflammatory rhetoric.

It said unilateral actions by either side, including settlement activity, cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community.

The Quartet welcomed Israeli actions to improve access to Gaza, and easing restrictions on movement in the West Bank, and urged further Israeli steps to facilitate Palestinian state-building.

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