Yesterday the Quartet issued a statement declaring it was “greatly concerned” about Israel’s approval of 277 apartments in Ariel in the West Bank, and reaffirmed that “unilateral action … cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations.” The State Department spokesperson stated the U.S. considered the Israeli announcement “deeply troubling.” The Palestinian spokesman accused Israel of trying to destroy the peace process.
More than 19,000 people live in Ariel, and another 11,000 live in the bloc north of it, so the 277 units are less than one percent of the total population. The units will be constructed in the center of town, so there will be no expansion of Ariel’s boundaries. Elliott Abrams noted yesterday that the Bush administration had agreed with Israel on the principles governing settlements — no new settlements or expansion of the land area of existing ones — and that the phrase used to describe the agreement was “build up and in, not out:”
The usual complaints about new construction in the settlements were that “it is making a final peace agreement impossible” or at least more and more difficult by “taking more Palestinian land” that would have to be bargained over in the end and whose taking would right now interfere with Palestinian life and livelihoods. We understood that there would never be a long construction freeze … especially the “major blocks” that Israel will keep [which] are living communities with growing families. So we reached that understanding with the Israelis: build up and in, not out. That way whatever the chances of a peace deal were, construction in the settlements would not reduce them.
As the Abrams post makes clear, the settlements are a side issue – blown out of proportion by the Obama administration from the beginning, when it reneged on the prior understanding with Israel and refused to endorse the 2004 Bush letter – and the Quartet now seems to serve only the function of regularly meeting to condemn Israel.
The Quartet had nothing to say yesterday about the unilateral action of the Palestinian Authority, which has repeatedly said it plans to go to the UN next month in an attempt to prejudge the outcome of negotiations — after ignoring a ten-month construction moratorium, which included Ariel, that expired nearly a year ago. The statement the Quartet should have issued is here.