The Middle East Quartet are set to meet this Friday, June 26, in Trieste, Italy. The meeting comes at a critical time with hopes of re-starting peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. President Obama has repeatedly stated his position that the Jewish only settlements in both the West Bank and east Jerusalem are ‘illegitimate’ to the chagrin of Israeli officials use to a ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ policy where they do what they want concerning settlement activities while the U.S. looks the other way. This tacit behavior was the norm during past administrations. The U.S. position on the illegitimacy of settlements is in line with international law and international consensus which has long viewed settlements as illegal. Israeli authorities, including Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, have repeatedly stated their intentions to continue what they call ‘natural growth’ building.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Trieste soon and AIUSA has sent a letter to her and cc’d Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell urging her to stand firm in the U.S. position on a complete settlement freeze and also containing a few more pressing concerns that we hope Sec’y Clinton remembers in discussions with other members of the Quartet (the EU, the UN and Russia).
The letter to Clinton not only re-iterates the illegality of the Jewish-only settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but outlines the effect that settlements have had and are having on the local Palestinians living there. Not only have settlements negatively impacted the Palestinians’ standard of living, housing, education, health and work, but are inherently discriminatory in nature. Settlements, land surrounding settlements and by-pass roads built for easy commutes to Israel are exclusively for Israelis. Not only is water accessed in the OPT being re-directed to settlers and Israel at a 4:1 ratio, security measures taken by Israel, including over 600 roadblocks, checkpoints and the wall/fence much of which is being built on Palestinian territory have long been detrimental to any peace negotiations.
AIUSA believes previous attempts at resolving the conflict failed in part because they did not address these key issues. And actions must include more than just dismantling recently established settlements, referred to as “unauthorized outposts”. Israel should never have transferred its civilian population into the OPT and given that successive Israeli governments have consistently encouraged Israeli civilians to move to the OPT, Israeli authorities should now provide compensation for settler evacuations and assist them to re-settle. A study conducted by Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) in 2003 found that the majority of Israelis living in settlements would re-locate if offered an adequate economic incentive.
The letter also addresses our continuing concerns about human rights violations in areas under Palestinian Authority control despite training provided under the leadership of Lt. General Keith Dayton, U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Arbitrary detentions, disregard for due process and ill-treatment and torture of detainees in PA detention centers continue to be reported.
We asked that these issues be raised and that U.S. training of PA security forces results in a professional force that respects human rights while providing security.
UPDATE 6/26/09: Ha’aretz, an Israeli daily, published ‘Quartet to urge Israel: Freeze all settlement activity’. A European diplomat said that the Quartet would tell Israel Friday to put a freeze on all settlement activity, including “natural growth”.