Quartet asks Israel to freeze settlement, remove outposts

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS

London : Middle East peace negotiators meeting in London Friday called for major improvement in living conditions in Palestinian territories, and urged Israel to freeze all settlement activity and dismantle outposts erected since March 2001.

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Arab states should “fulfil their financial and political roles” in support of the peace process, the Quartet said.

The call was twinned by former British premier Tony Blair declaring a peace deal was possible “faster than people think”.

The Quartet of negotiators comprising the United Nations, the US, the European Union (EU) and Russia met in London and later joined foreign ministers and other senior officials of Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Kuwait and the UAE, for a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) of donor nations.

The AHLC meeting was also attended by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

A statement read out by UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon said: “The Quartet called for all donors to follow through on pledges made…The Quartet encouraged the Arab states to fulfil both their political and financial roles in support of the Annapolis process.”

It expressed “deep concern” at the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip.

It urged Israel to freeze all settlement activity and dismantle outposts erected since March 2001, and reaffirmed its support for the goal of securing an agreement – which would see the establishment of a Palestinian state – by the end of the year.

“The Quartet called for continued emergency and humanitarian assistance and the provision of essential services to Gaza without obstruction. The Quartet expressed its continuing concern over the closure of major Gaza crossing points given the impact on the Palestinian economy and daily life,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, Blair said he thought a breakthrough was on the cards in the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

“The reason why I remain, in the end, not merely determined but also believe that we can achieve a breakthrough is that there is a focus now both on improving the Palestinian security capability and on getting economic and social development going,” he said.

Blair said the situation in Gaza was “terrible” but added that in order for the Israeli blockade to be lifted, there would have to be an end to rocket attacks on Israel.

“This political negotiation can move forward better and faster than people think at the present time but it requires an enormous commitment and effort,” he said.

“Everybody knows that the situation in Gaza is terrible,” Blair said. “But there is a different and better way through. That is for the terror attacks and the rocket attacks and the smuggling of weapons to stop, for the action therefore by Israel also to stop and for a progressive lifting of the restrictions and the opening of the border.”