The Quartet issued a statement Wednesday using well-worn language regarding the settlements, but stopped far short of Palestinian hopes that it would blame settlement construction for the impasse in the diplomatic process.

The last paragraph of the 11-paragraph Quartet statement “expressed concern about unilateral and provocative actions by either party, including continued settlement activity, which cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations, the only way to a just and durable solution to the conflict.”

The statement came at the end of a meeting that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, Quartet envoy Tony Blair and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh attended in Washington.

Jordan – not a member of the Quartet – sponsored a round of Israeli-Palestinian talks in Amman in January.

A day before the meeting, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Quartet should publicly hold Israel responsible for derailing the peace process.

While the statement did nothing of the kind, it did include a paragraph lumping violent Palestinian extremism and incitement with settler violence.

“Noting the significant progress on security achieved by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the Quartet calls on the Palestinian Authority to continue to make every effort to improve law and order, to fight violent extremism, and to end incitement,” the statement read. “The Quartet also expressed its concern over ongoing settler violence and incitement in the West Bank and calls on Israel to take effective measures, including bringing the perpetrators of such acts to justice.”

One Israeli official said the Quartet seemed to merely “cut and paste” language from previous statements the EU issued after various meetings on the Mideast, without noticing that in recent weeks there have been significantly fewer instances of what had come to be known as “price tag” violence and vandalism against Palestinians in the West Bank.

The statement renewed the Quartet’s commitment to the framework it laid out in September that called for an initial meeting between the two sides within 30 days, leading to the trading of comprehensive proposals on security and territory within three months, direct negotiations and an overall agreement by the end of 2012.

The Prime Minister’s Office issued a communiqué welcoming the Quartet statement “calling for a continuation of direct talks without pre-conditions.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the communiqué said, will suggest to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad when they meet next week that the level of talks between the two sides be upgraded, and that he meet directly with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Fayyad is expected to deliver a letter to Netanyahu spelling out the Palestinian position on the talks. A few days later, Netanyahu’s negotiator Yitzhak Molcho is expected to deliver a letter in response to Abbas.

The Quartet statement, meanwhile, called on the international community to “ensure the contribution of $1.1 billion in assistance to meet the Palestinian Authority’s 2012 recurrent financing requirements,” noting the “increasing fragility of developments on the ground” and the Palestinian Authority’s fiscal challenges.

Israeli officials interpreted this as a call on Israel not to take any punitive financial measures against the PA in response to Palestinian unilateral moves in international forums.

The statement also encouraged Israel and the PA “to cooperate to facilitate the social and economic development of Area C, which is of critical importance for the viability of a future Palestinian state as well as for its Palestinian inhabitants to be enabled to lead a normal life.” Area C is the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control, and in recent months there has been talk of the Palestinians – supported by certain European countries – unilaterally starting projects in that area.

Israeli officials said that what was important about the Quartet statement was that it called for developments in Area C through Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. Blair has been working with Israel to allow more Palestinian economic activity in that area, but the Fatah and Hamas reconciliation agreement signed in Doha in February temporarily shelved those plans.

The Quartet said that the situation “in and around Gaza” will remain “fragile and unsustainable as long as the West Bank and Gaza are not reunited under the legitimate Palestinian Authority adhering to the PLO commitments.”

The statement also condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza, without blasting Israel for its retaliatory military actions.

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