WASHINGTON – The Middle East Quartet, a working group on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict comprised of Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, has issued a statement addressing the growing humanitarian crisis plaguing the Gaza Strip following conversations among envoys from the four players.
Notably, the Thursday statement omitted any reference to Israeli settlement activity – a rarity for the Quartet, which in its last report on the conflict, offered detailed and scathing criticism of the government’s construction efforts.
An official familiar with its drafting told The Jerusalem Post that the statement naturally focused on Gaza following recent meetings in New York between Egypt’s President Abel Fattah al-Sisi and Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Those meetings centralized on Palestinian Authority efforts to reclaim control of the coastal strip from Hamas.
The Quartet encouraged efforts by Egypt and other regional powers “to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to assume its responsibilities in Gaza,” it said in a joint statement. “They urge the parties to take concrete steps to reunite Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate Palestinian Authority.”
Reunification of the Palestinian territories under PA control “will facilitate lifting the closures of the crossings, while addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns, and unlock international support for Gaza’s growth, stability and prosperity, which is critical for efforts to reach lasting peace,” they continued, calling on “the international community to act accordingly” in response to the “grave” humanitarian challenge facing Gazans.
The statement echoes a speech delivered by the US special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, to a UN committee earlier this month, in which he squarely blamed Hamas for the crisis.
“The Quartet envoys stand ready to engage with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the region in support of this process,” they continued.
This time last year, the Quartet was lambasting the Israeli government over its construction work in Area C and east Jerusalem.
“The Quartet emphasized its strong opposition to ongoing settlement activity, which is an obstacle to peace, and expressed its grave concern that the acceleration of settlement construction,” the group’s September 2016 report read, referring to Israel’s building in east Jerusalem as “settlement activity” to its ire.
The Trump administration says settlement activity is “not helpful” to the pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians – a top priority for President Donald Trump. But the Obama administration, which was in power and at the table when the 2016 report was drafted, took a harder and more vocal line against settlement construction.
“The retroactive ‘legalization’ of existing units and the continued high rate of demolitions of Palestinian structures are steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution,” the 2016 statement said.