US getting tougher with Israel over settlements: Report

Shanty homes in the Palestinian Abu Anwar community are seen near the Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim (background), in the West Bank city of al-Azariya, east of Jerusalem al-Quds, on February 23, 2016. (AFP photo)

The US government will endorse a tougher tone with Israel in an upcoming international report that criticizes the regime over expanding Jewish settlements, Palestinian house demolitions and property seizures on occupied Palestinian territory.

The US and its fellow Middle East mediators will focus on a surge of construction in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East al-Quds (Jerusalem), diplomats told The Associated Press.

The US approval of the harsh language marks a subtle shift, as Washington has traditionally tempered statements condemning Israel by the so-called "Quartet" of mediators with careful diplomatic language.

But the diplomats, who included three US officials, said Washington 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 peace impasse.

The report's release is sure to enrage Israel, where officials are already bracing for expected criticism.

And although the mediators will endorse some long-standing Palestinian complaints, the Palestinians are likely to complain the report does not go far enough.

However, diplomats acknowledge that the report, which could come out around June, will be largely symbolic, requiring no action.

It could be unveiled at the UN and possibly sent to the Security Council for an endorsement, according to the diplomats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the unfinished work publicly.

The diplomats said the report is intended to highlight obstacles to a so-called two-state peace agreement.

The Palestinians do not want talks as long as illegal settlement construction continues; the Israelis claim they are open to negotiations, but have shown little interest in making any meaningful concessions.

Another diplomat said Israel will be put "on notice" that its appropriation of land isn't going unnoticed.

The document will not just look at East al-Quds and West Bank settlement construction, but also at a "problematic trend" of legalizing smaller so-called outposts, the officials said. In addition, it will criticize Israel for a growing backlog of housing block approvals.

In 1972, there were just over 10,000 Israeli settlers, with 1,500 living in the West Bank and the rest in East al-Quds.

Two decades later, there were 231,200 Israelis living in the occupied territories. That number rose to 365,000 by 2000, when the second Palestinian uprising began, and 474,000 by the time Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel's prime minister again in 2008.

The settlements are now home to more than 570,000 Israelis, 370,000 in the West Bank and 200,000 in East al-Quds, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now.

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