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Netanyahu grows jittery over Middle East Quartet report

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem (al-Quds) on June 13, 2016. ©AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem (al-Quds) on June 13, 2016. ©AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to soften the tone of a Middle East Quartet report critical of Tel Aviv’s expansion of illegal settlements on the occupied Palestinian lands and its opposition to a French initiative for peace with the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.

The publication of the report by the Quartet group – the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia – has been delayed for several times, but Israeli officials say it will only be released after Netanyahu meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in the Italian capital city of Rome early next week. The Israeli prime minister is also scheduled to hold talks with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on June 28.

Diplomats confirm that the current language in the forthcoming report is strong and harshly criticizes Israel’s construction of settler units in the occupied West Bank and East al-Quds (Jerusalem), which is considered illegal under international law.

“As it stands, the language is strong and Israel isn’t going to like it,” Reuters quoted a diplomat briefed on the content as saying on condition of anonymity.

There is speculation that the wording of the report may be softened before it is published next week.

The Quartet report was written following a meeting of its foreign affairs representatives in Munich, Germany, earlier this year. The senior diplomats sought to explore the reasons behind a stalemate in the negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, and the revival of the so-called peace talks between the two sides.

The United Nations and most countries regard the Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories were captured by Israel in a war in 1967 and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid construction on occupied lands.

A partial view taken on May 23, 2016 shows the illegal Israeli settlement of Har Homa (top) from the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem. ©AFP

A partial view taken on May 23, 2016 shows the illegal Israeli settlement of Har Homa (top) from the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem. ©AFP

The presence and continued expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine has created a major obstacle for the efforts to establish peace in the Middle East. Palestinians want the West Bank as part of their future independent state, with East al-Quds (Jerusalem) as its capital.

More than half a million Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds.

Earlier this month, France hosted a gathering of representatives from more than 20 countries as well as UN and EU diplomats in Paris as part of its plan to revive the so-called peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Neither Palestinians nor Israel attended the conference.

The last round of the talks between Israelis and Palestinians collapsed in 2014. Tel Aviv’s illegal settlement activities and its refusal to release senior Palestinian prisoners were among major reasons behind the failure of the talks.

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