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Mideast Quartet: Israeli settlements eroding two-state solution

The group, which includes the US, UN, EU and Russia, said settlement activity is an obstacle to peace
About 371,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements in the West Bank (AFP)

The "Quartet" of Middle East peace mediators said on Friday it was strongly opposed to Israel's ongoing settlement activity, warning that it risked ending the chance of a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Peace talks, envisaging a Palestinian state in territory Israel occupied in 1967, collapsed two years ago after nine months of largely fruitless discussions sponsored by the United States.

The acid political climate between Israel and the Palestinians makes progress unlikely. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas showed no signs of a rapprochement during their speeches at the annual UN gathering of world leaders.

"The Quartet emphasized its strong opposition to ongoing settlement activity, which is an obstacle to peace, and expressed its grave concern that the acceleration of settlement construction and expansion ... (is) steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution," the Quartet said in a statement after meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

The group, which includes the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, issued a report in July calling on Israel to stop its policy of building settlements on occupied land and restricting Palestinian development, but the activity has shown no signs of abating.

The Quartet also condemned a resurgence of violence. It urged both sides to de-escalate tensions and show restraint.

With US efforts to broker a deal frozen, France and Egypt have tried to revive interest, warning that letting the matter drift, even during a US election year, was counterproductive.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that while the path to peace was narrowing, it still existed.

"It's true that listening to Abbas and Netanyahu's speeches at the UN, you can't say their views are converging ... but we can't accept the fait accompli. That would lead to despair and violence," he said.

Palestinians say Israeli settlement expansion in occupied territory is dimming any prospect for the viable state they seek.

The CIA Factbook online says about 371,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank. The figures exclude East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel in 1967.