Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Are you with us?" - U.S. falls short in bid to gain support from Quartet for Israel's settlement freeze

(Haaretz).The United States fell short in its efforts to gain a declaration of international support for Israel's temporary settlement construction freeze. The Americans were hoping that its partners in the Quartet - Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - would agree to such a declaration, but Moscow expressed a series of reservations and foiled Washington's effort.

Last Thursday, a day after the security-political cabinet decided to put a moratorium on construction in settlements for a 10 month period, a conference call was held at the highest levels among Quartet members. In addition to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Europe's outgoing foreign affairs chief, Javier Solana, and Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, were also on line.

Clinton proposed that the Quartet issue a joint statement of support for the Israeli decision to freeze construction. The other participants agreed and decided to let officials from each side formulate the announcement.

Heading the team tasked with formulating the statement was U.S. diplomat, David Hale, deputy to U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell.

Hale initiated exchanges with his colleagues in the EU, the UN and Russia, but it quickly became clear that there was no agreement on the content of the statement.

Senior Israeli and American officials say that Russia was responsible for foiling the announcement, by expressing many reservations to the text proposed by the Americans - which was reportedly very short. At the crux of the Russian objections were two points that were very important to the U.S. administration: the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, and that the future border between Israel and the Palestinians would reflect developments on the ground.

The Americans proposed that the Quartet's announcement be based on the statement issued by Secretary of State Clinton last week, supporting the announcement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the freeze.

The proposed version called for the resumption of negotiations without preconditions so that an agreement could be reached which "would fulfill the Palestinian goal of establishing an independent, viable state, based on the 1967 borders, agreed upon exchanges [of territory], and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect the developments [which occurred on the ground] and which fulfill the Israeli security requirements."

The Russians argued that they did not agree with stating that Israel will be a Jewish State, and that the borders will be altered on the basis of "developments" on the ground, namely Israeli annexation of the large settlement blocks.

The Russians stressed that such formulation of the Quartet's text predetermines the results of the negotiations.

Once efforts to convince the Russians failed, the Americans decided that there was no point in issuing a statement. A senior U.S. administration official told Haaretz that the without a consensus among the members of the Quartet, it would be impossible to issue a statement for the whole group.