U.S. to harden tone on Israeli settlements

Matthew Lee
Associated Press

Washington — The United States will endorse a tougher tone with Israel in an upcoming international report that takes the Jewish state to task over settlements, demolitions and property seizures on land the Palestinians claim for a future state, diplomats told the Associated Press.

The U.S. and its fellow Mideast mediators also will chastise Palestinian leaders for failing to rein in anti-Israeli violence. But the diplomats involved in drafting the document said its primary focus will be a surge of construction in Jewish housing in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The U.S. approval of the harsh language marks a subtle shift. Washington has traditionally tempered statements with careful diplomatic language, but the diplomats said the U.S. in this case will align itself closer to the positions of the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, who emphasize Israel’s role in the Mideast impasse.

The report’s release is sure to infuriate Israel, where officials are already bracing for expected criticism. And on the other side, although the mediators will endorse some long-standing Palestinian complaints, the Palestinians are likely to complain the report does not go far enough.

Diplomats acknowledge the report, which could come out in late May or June, will be largely symbolic, requiring no action. It could be unveiled at the U.N. and possibly sent to the Security Council for an endorsement, according to the diplomats, who included three U.S. officials. They demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the unfinished work publicly.

The diplomats said the report is intended to highlight obstacles to a two-state peace agreement — the stated goal of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders — and offer recommendations for restarting negotiations.

The Palestinians don’t want talks as long as settlement construction continues; the Israelis say they’re open to negotiations, but have shown little interest in making any meaningful concessions.