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Radical Changes Needed in Israel Approach

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As the Quartet celebrates the resumption of bilateral negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in Jordan this month, a record number of Palestinians find themselves out in the cold this winter due to illegal home demolitions by Israeli authorities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Scores more remain under threat of forced evictions.

The Quartet, comprised of representatives from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, has facilitated the so-called peace negotiations for the past 10 years with little change in their approach, and 2012 does not bode well for those in the region or for prospects for peace.

While Amnesty International takes no position on the peace process per se, the organization urges that any negotiations be founded on ensuring respect for human rights. Amnesty is calling on the United States and other members of the Quartet not to let negotiations drag on as they have done for years without progress, but to instead implement immediate and essential changes in their approach.

Since the 1993 Oslo Agreement, Amnesty has underlined with increasing urgency the need to base peace on the human rights enshrined in international human rights standards. This should extend to the construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, which violates the prohibition on population transfers by an occupying power into lands that it occupies.

Last December, a group of 20 international humanitarian and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, issued a joint statement highlighting startling numbers for 2011; most disturbing among them is the fact that a "record number of Palestinians were displaced in 2011 due to home demolitions."

The figures show that since the beginning of 2011 more than 500 Palestinian essential structures were destroyed in the OPT, with over 1,000 Palestinians displaced -- doubling the number displaced over the same period in 2010, and the highest figure since at least 2005. More than half of those displaced have been children.

The rate of illegal Israeli settlement expansion in occupied territory increased, as did violence perpetrated by settlers on Palestinians. Violent acts by Palestinians on Israelis also continued, including rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

In 2011, the construction of settler housing units accelerated, and plans for around 4,000 new units were approved for East Jerusalem -- the highest number since at least 2006.

Violent attacks by settlers against Palestinians, including children, escalated by over 50 percent in 2011 compared to 2010, and by over 160 percent compared to 2009. Settlers have destroyed or damaged nearly 10,000 Palestinian trees in 2011, undermining the livelihoods of hundreds of families with virtual impunity. Over 90 percent of complaints of settler violence were closed by the Israeli police without indictment from 2005-2010.

In 2012, up to 2,300 Bedouin living in the Jerusalem periphery face forcible and unlawful relocation if Israeli authorities follow through with their reported plans, and rural communities in the Jordan Valley face the prospect of further demolitions as settlements continue to expand.

The increasing rate of settlement expansion, demolitions and other human rights violations make any prospect for a just and sustainable peace virtually impossible, and the continuing disconnect between the Quartet talks and the situation on the ground is dangerous.

A just and durable peace is only attainable if respect for international law and human rights is the basis of any negotiations. It is long past time that members of the Quartet realized this fact; the endless round of 'talks' and the escalation of violations show the fundamental failure of the Quartet's current approach.

Now is the time for President Obama to become more actively involved, working to drastically revise the Quartet's approach and show that he can make a real difference to the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.

Edith Garwood serves as the country specialist on Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Palestinian Authority for Amnesty International USA.

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