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”?