(JTA) – Israel welcomed a highly anticipated report from the Middle East Quartet for citing Palestinian incitement as an obstacle to peace, but regretted what it calls the report’s failure to address the “real core” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people in any boundaries.”
Released on Friday after a two-day delay, the report by the so-called Quartet – comprising representatives from the United Nations, Russia, the United States and the European Union – expresses grave concern over the future of the two-state solution, blaming Israel for a policy that “is steadily eroding” its viability.
But in a diplomatic coup for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it also chided the Palestinians for incitement and doing too little to combat terrorism.
“The Palestinian Authority should act decisively and take all steps within its capacity to cease incitement to violence and strengthen ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including by clearly condemning all acts of terrorism,” the Quartet said.
The report is signed by the foreign ministers of the four entities, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. It is expected to guide diplomatic discussions in the months ahead, and offer guidelines for breaking the diplomatic impasse in the region.
The report criticized both sides in accounting for the stalemate. It condemned the “continuing violence, terrorist attacks against civilians, and incitement to violence” on the Palestinian side, and the “continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development” on the Israeli side.
The Palestinians also came in for criticism when the report said that “the illicit arms build-up and militant activity, continuing absence of Palestinian unity, and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza feed instability and ultimately impede efforts to achieve a negotiated solution.”
Among its recommendations, the Quartet called on Israel to cease settlement construction and expansion, endorsed “direct, bilateral negotiations between the two sides” and urged each side “to independently demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to the two-state solution.”
The report was issued amid a flare-up of deadly attacks against Israelis by Palestinian attackers, including a shooting on a highway in the West Bank in which a father was killed and his wife and children injured and the stabbing death of 13-year-old Israeli girl in Kiryat Arba by a 17-year-old attacker.
“Israel therefore welcomes the Quartet’s recognition of the centrality of Palestinian incitement and violence to the perpetuation of the conflict,” the Prime Minister’s Office wrote in its response. “This culture of hatred poisons minds and destroys lives and stands as the single greatest obstacle to progress towards peace.”
The Israeli response also scored the Quartet for its criticism of the settlements: “The report also perpetuates the myth that Israeli construction in the West Bank is an obstacle to peace. When Israel froze settlements, it did not get peace. When Israel uprooted every settlement in Gaza, it did not get peace. It got war.”
Over the years, after deadly attacks on settlers, Israeli politicians have called for expanding settlement activity in response. But during a condolence call Friday on the slain girl’s family in Kiryat Arba, a settlement near Hebron, Netanyahu promised to strengthen the community but did not call for new housing starts.
A dovish Israeli group welcomed the Quartet’s emphasis on ceasing settlement building.
“This is the time to advance towards a reality of two states, to create a clear border between us and the Palestinians, to enable the return of settlers back home from east of the security fence in the framework of an evacuation (voluntary), compensation and absorption plan, and to cease construction and investment east of the fence – all that without abandoning Israel’s security and the security of those settlers who choose to stay,” according to Blue White Future, a non-partisan group that supports the two-state solution.