Quartet Urges Settlement Freeze

The world sponsors of the Middle East peace process have called on Israel to extend its settlement moratorium, in a bid to map out a peace deal within the next year.

According to a statement released on Tuesday, the Quartet, comprising the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, piled further pressure on Benyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to extend the 10-month settlement freeze due to expire at the end of September.

"The Quartet noted that the commendable Israeli settlement moratorium instituted last November has had a positive impact and urged its continuation," the statement read.

Barack Obama, the US president, and Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, have already urged Netanyahu to extend the moratorium on new settlement activity on land in the West Bank captured in the 1967 war.

The Palestinians have said they will drop out of the peace talks, launched just this month with Obama’s backing, unless the freeze continues.

Israeli Reluctance

But Netanyahu has been reluctant to take that step, which could affect his ruling coalition dominated by pro-settler parties.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from the United Nations in New York, said that while Netanyahu was absent from the meeting, the Quartet was aggressively trying to convince him to continue the settlement freeze.

The Quartet’s statement repeated the bloc’s backing for the current peace talks and reaffirmed its hopes for a deal within one year that will see a viable Palestinian state emerge side-by-side with Israel.

The statement urged both sides to refrain from "provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric", and called upon Israel to further ease restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – a step the World Bank says will be important for the economic viability of a future Palestinian state.

The group’s statement condemned continued violence, particularly an attack in the occupied West Bank which killed four Israelis on August 31 and was claimed by Palestinian group Hamas, which has rejected the current peace negotiations.

It also repeated calls on Arab states to step up financial support for the fledgling Palestinian Authority, which needs much more help as it seeks to take on more of the attributes of full statehood in advance of a possible peace deal.

The statement committed the bloc – the main guarantors of any future Middle East peace deal – to remain involved in the negotiations, and said it supported holding an international Middle East peace conference in Moscow at a date yet to be determined.

A diplomatic source said Israeli and Palestinian leaders met in New York on Monday, a week after the latest round of peace talks ended without visible signs of progress on the settlement issue.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, whose position is largely ceremonial, met Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting taking place in New York, the source said.

It remains unclear when Abbas will next hold talks with Netanyahu.

They have held two rounds of direct talks since the negotiations resumed on September 2, after a 20-month hiatus.
(Aljazeera.net English and Agencies)

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