Israel responded positively Saturday, and the Palestinians negatively, to a formula for restarting negotiations issued by the Quartet that would place a December 2012 deadline on reaching an agreement.

“We are studying the statement, and view favorably the call for a return to direct talks,” a senior Israeli official said.

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He added that the government would not respond to the proposal, which made no mention of the pre-1967 lines or Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, until Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu discussed the matter with senior cabinet ministers after returning to Israel on Monday.

The Middle East Quartet – the US, EU, Russia and the UN – has been trying for months to come up with a formula that would enable direct talks. Its formula was released on Friday afternoon, after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas formally submitted a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon seeking full UN membership.

The Quartet statement urged the parties “to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions.”

Acknowledging that talks by themselves will not reestablish trust, the Quartet proposed the following: a “preparatory meeting” between the parties within a month to agree to an agenda and a “method of proceeding in the negotiation.” The two sides will commit that the objective is to “reach an agreement within a time frame agreed to by the parties but not longer than the end of 2012.”

The statement said the expectation is that the parties will come up with comprehensive proposal on territory and security with three months, and will have made “substantial progress” within six months. To facilitate this, an international conference will be held in Moscow “at the appropriate time.”

The statement also called for another donors conference to help the PA state-building efforts. In addition, “the members of the Quartet will consult to identify additional steps they can actively support towards Palestinian statehood individually and together, to secure in accordance with existing procedures significantly greater independence and sovereignty for the Palestinian Authority over its affairs.”

In what could be interpreted as a veiled reference to settlement construction, the statement continued: “The Quartet calls upon the parties to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are to be effective. The Quartet reiterated the obligations of both parties under the road map.”

In an interview on Friday with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Netanyahu – after being asked a number of times if he would consider another settlement freeze – said that he tried that once, and it went nowhere, but added, “I am willing to talk about it.”

Even before the Quartet issued its statement, the prime minister – during his speech to the UN – called on Abbas to restart peace talks in New York.

“Let’s talk doogri [straightforward],” Netanyahu said in his speech.

“There’s an old Arab saying that you cannot applaud with one hand. Well, the same is true of peace. I cannot make peace alone. I cannot make peace without you. President Abbas, I extend my hand – the hand of Israel – in peace. I hope that you will grasp that hand,” he said.

“If you wish, I’ll come to Ramallah. Actually, I have a better suggestion. We’ve both just flown thousands of miles to New York. Now we’re in the same city. We’re in the same building. So let’s meet here today in the United Nations.

“What is there to stop us? If we genuinely want peace, what is there to stop us from meeting today and beginning peace negotiations? I’ll tell you my needs and concerns. You’ll tell me yours. And with God’s help, we’ll find the common ground of peace,” Netanyahu said.

The PA was quick to reject the Quartet’s proposal.

Its Foreign Minister Riad Malki said on Saturday that the Quartet’s initiative is “incomplete.” He pointed out that it does not call for a cessation of settlement construction or a pullout to the pre- 1967 lines.

“The only new thing that the Quartet carries is a time line for discussing the issues of security and borders,” Malki said, referring to the Quartet’s statement calling for an agreement by December 2012.

Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the PA leadership would discuss the Quartet initiative in the coming days.

A number of Palestinian factions, including Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also rejected the Quartet plan, saying it was designed to “foil” Palestinian aspirations for independence.

UN chief Ban said, “I sincerely hope that the parties will respond constructively to our statement.”

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters that there had been intense diplomatic activity in recent months to get the parties back to the negotiating table. “This has been my primary objective in the belief that through negotiations we would end the conflict,” she said.


The Palestinians, meanwhile, have their eyes set toward Monday, when the Security Council is scheduled to discuss Abbas’s application for full UN membership of a Palestinian state. It could take weeks, even months, before the matter is brought to a vote, however. While the US has pledged to veto the resolution if necessary, efforts are being made to deny the Palestinians the nine positive votes they need in the Security Council for it to be accepted and passed on to the General Assembly for a vote, so that the US won’t have to use its veto and be isolated on this issue.

Malki expressed hope that the Security Council would vote in favor of the request. He added that the PA was continuing its efforts to persuade additional countries to back the request.

Following his speech to the UN, Netanyahu gave nine interviews on Friday, three to Israeli television networks, and six to foreign networks, including ABC, BBC, Fox News and CNN. He is scheduled to give an interview to a pan-Arabic network on Sunday.

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