Russia has wanted to host an international conference on Middle East Peace since the start of the Annapolis process of direct negotiations in late November 2007.
It wasn’t exactly a full international multilateral conference, but today the Quartet of Middle East negotiators (US, Russia, European Union + UN) met in Moscow — with their Special Representative Tony Blair — and issued a statement on proposed U.S.-brokered “indirect” talks which is being billed as “strong”:
[In the statement’s last line, it says that “The Quartet reaffirms its previous statements and supports in consultation with the parties on international conference in Moscow at the appropriate time, concurrent with direct negotiations”.]
Most of the specifics in this Quartet statement were addressed to Israel – in particular, to the position expressed by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and others in his government about East Jerusalem.
But, there is not much in it that would encourage the Palestinians – many of whom remain unconvinced that the proposed U.S.-mediated “indirect talks” between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will do anything good.
The Quartet statement called for an Israeli freeze on settlement expansion — and for Israel “to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem”.
And, the Quartet said, “Recalling that the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community, the Quartet underscores that the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties and condemns the decision by the Government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. The Quartet reaffirms its intention to closely monitor developments in Jerusalem, and to keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation on the ground. The Quartet recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply important issue for Israelis and Palestinians, and for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and believes that through good faith and negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem, and safeguards this status for people around the world”.
What is it like in East Jerusalem these days? Here are two instructive videos:
(1) Filmed on 15 March – Hagit Ofran, who documents settlements for Peace Now, has posted this encounter at the entrance to the Old City of East Jerusalem on her new Eyes on the Ground in East Jerusalem Blog, here:
(2) Filmed one month earlier, on 14 February – this video taken by International Solidarity Movement volunteers was posted showing participants in a bus tour for Jewish groups visiting the homes built by the UN in the mid-1950s in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem to house Palestinian refugees. Four of these homes have been evacuated by Israeli court orders over the past 18 months, and handed over to Jewish settlers. This video was made in the entryway to the home of Rivka Kurd — the front wing of her house, built apparently without proper permit, was the most recent property turned over to Jewish settlers. The family property was tossed out on to the front lawn that these visiters mill around it. The family, who sits in a tent from where this video was made, say that it is ironic that the part of their house built without a proper permit was declared illegal for them to live in, but legal for the Jewish settlers:
Is it really enough for the Quartet to express the intention to “closely monitor” developments — and maybe even to “keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation on the ground”?
The UN Secretary-General got to read out the Quartet statement, as usual:
“The Quartet principals met in Moscow on March 19th, 2010. They were joined by Quartet representative Tony Blair. We are honing the fundamental principles laid out initial statement in Trieste, Italy, on June 26, 2009. The Quartet welcomes the readiness to launch proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The Quartet emphasizes that the circumstances which made it possible to agree to launch the proximity talks be respected. The proximity talks are an important step toward the resumption without preconditions of direct bilateral negotiations that resolve all financial status issues, as previously agreed by the parties. The Quartet believes these negotiations should lead to a settlement negotiated between the parties within 24 months that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors. The Quartet reiterates that Arab-Israel peace and the establishment of a peaceful state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza is in the fundamental interest of the parties of all states in the region and of the international community … The Quartet reiterates this call on Israel and the Palestinians to act on the basis of international law, and on their previous agreements and obligations – in particular, adherence to the roadmap irrespective of reciprocity to promote an environment conducive to successful negotiations and reaffirms that unilateral actions taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations, and will not be recognized by the international community. The Quartet urges the Government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001, and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem. The Quartet also calls on both sides to observe calm and restraint, and refrain from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric, especially in areas of cultural and religious sensitivity. Noting the significant progress on security achieved by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the Quartet calls on the Palestinian Authority to continue to make every effort to improve law and order, to fight violent extremism, and to end incitement …
“Recalling that transformative change on the ground is integral to peace, the Quartet continues to support the Palestinian Authority’s plan of August 2009 for building the Palestinian state within 24 months as a demonstration of Palestinians’ serious commitment to an independent state that provides good governance, opportunity, justice, and security for the Palestinian people from the first day that it is established, and is a responsible neighbor to all states in the region. The Quartet endorses fully the efforts of the Quartet representative in support of Prime Minister Fayyad state building and economic development program which has seen significant improvement in the Palestinian Authority’s performance with respect to security and law and order, and improved economic growth. The Quartet supports the Quartet representative in his vital efforts to promote change on the ground in aid of the political negotiations.
“The Quartet is deeply concerned by the continuing deterioration in Gaza, including the humanitarian and human rights situation of the civilian population and stresses the urgency of a durable resolution to the Gaza crisis. The Quartet calls for a solution that addresses Israel’s legitimate security concerns including an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza. It promotes Palestinian unity based on the PLO commitments and the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank on the legitimate Palestinian Authority, and ensures the opening of the crossings to allow for the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods, and persons to and from Gaza consistent with the UN Security Council Resolution 1860. The Quartet takes positive notes that the Israeli Government has just communicated its approval of a number of the UN Secretary General’s civilian recovery projects, including a stalled housing project in communities and looks forward to the early implementation. The Quartet condemns yesterday’s rocket fire from Gaza and calls for an immediate end to violence and terror and for calm to be respected. The Quartet reiterates its call for the immediate release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit…”
After UNSG BAN read out the full texts, there were remarks made by the various principals in a Q + A exchange:
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) I can tell you as follows: The statement has been approved by all the members of the Quartet. We have agreed that we are going to use all the possibilities available to each and every one of us to achieve that Israel and Palestine start indirect talks.
SECERTARY GENERAL BAN: I’m going to visit – after my visit to Israel and Palestinian Authorities and participate in League of Arab Summit meeting which will be held in Sirte, Libya. On that occasion, I’ll engage myself with Arab leaders and brief them about the Quartet meetings as well as my visit to the region. And I would strongly encourage Arab countries to fully support the proximity talks. It is absolutely necessary at this time.
QUESTION: Sorry. This is Charlie Wolfson of CBS for the American Network pool. Secretary Clinton, in the wake of Vice President Biden’s visit to Jerusalem, you used the word “insulting” for events that took place there. Is the Obama Administration past that phase and – in this relationship with Israel? Do you plan to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he’s in Washington? And have you spoken with any of the Palestinian leaders in addition to the fact that you’ve now spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu last night?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Charlie, as the Quartet statement makes very clear, we are all committed to the launching of proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Senator Mitchell, who was here for the meeting, will be going to brief more of our European allies and then will be in the region to speak with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. He expects to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu before the prime minister leaves for the United States. I expect to see the prime minister when he and I both address the AIPAC conference in Washington. Our relationship is ongoing. It is deep and broad. It is strong and enduring, and we believe that the launch of the proximity talks is very much in Israel’s interests as it is in the interests of the Palestinians. And to that end, we hope to see those talks commence as soon as possible.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Any other questions, please? The Iranian Information Agency.
QUESTION: I have a question to the Secretary General. The UN-distributed Goldstone Report about the crimes committed by Israel in the Gaza – it’s been two years since the events took place. What has been done and what will be done by the UN in order to lift the blockade and improve the life in Gaza?
SECRETARY GENERAL BAN: I have submitted this Goldstone Report to the General Assembly and Security Council. General Assembly has debated on this issue and took a resolution giving us another five months to continue to investigate. It is necessary, again, that the parties concerned to conduct a credible investigation during this period. And we will have another opportunity of discussing this matter. As you know, I’m going to visit the Gaza on Sunday. That will be the second time for me to visit. I would like to see for myself how the humanitarian situation would be. As this Quartet statement said, we are deeply concerned about this worsening humanitarian situation … The Israeli Government has just approved the very longstanding United Nations humanitarian project. This package includes water and sanitation projects (inaudible), containers to temporarily accommodate (inaudible) schools, and the completion of UN housing projects for 150 units. The Government of Israel has agreed to expand the list of imports to include aluminum for window frames. It’s vital now that these steps are speedily implemented … I will continue to work with the Government of Israel to broaden the scope of our cooperation and to allow civilian reconstruction.
QUESTION (Reuters) : Secretary Clinton, at first blush, did what Prime Minister Netanyahu tell you yesterday suggest that Israel will begin to address U.S. concerns? And Foreign Minister Lavrov, the Quartet statement today condemns, now the second time in a week, the 1,600 housing units that Israel announced for advanced plans for building in East Jerusalem. Have you heard anything today or at dinner last night that suggests that Israel is going to address that particular issue, or moreover, is going to take steps to try to prevent such announcements from disrupting or making more difficult the process to begin talks?
SECRETARY CLINTON: What I heard from the prime minister in response to the requests we made was useful and productive, and we are continuing our discussions with him and his government. It’s one of the reasons that Senator Mitchell will be going back to the region and meeting with him in just a few days … I think all of us sitting here share the same goal. We all condemned the announcement and we all are expecting both parties to move toward the proximity talks and to help create an atmosphere in which those talks can be constructive.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) The announcement that we adopted today that has just been read out by the Secretary General contains very clear wordings and language. We underscore that the circumstances conducive to an agreement about proximity talks should be respected. This is a clear language just as clear as other provisions of the statement such as an acceptability of any unilateral action that could prejudge the agreement between the parties themselves regarding the final status issues. We are convinced that Israel will hear this statement, will understand it correctly, and, as has been said already by the Secretary General and Senator Mitchell, are going to the region, and in their contacts with the parties, they will convey the position of the Quartet in a most clear way. We assume that the parties should take heed of this statement”.
However, Ma’an News Agency has reported that Hanan Ashrawi, who served as the spokeswoman for the Palestinian team that had to participate as part of the Jordanian delegation in the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, said that she and other Palestinians met EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton in the Spanish Consulate in East Jerusalem (Spain is current President of the EU). Ashrawi said she told Ashton that she opposed “indirect negotiations carried out by Mahmoud Abbas and PLO officials, during an interview with Ma’an on Thursday. ‘Israel is the only side that will see positive results from such talks’, Ashrawi said”. This Ma’an report is published here.