Quartet wants border proposals from Israel, PA

Quartet envoy says the sides will be pressed to present ideas for security arrangements, borders within three months.

By REUTERS
October 21, 2011 07:22
3 minute read.
Tony Blair

tony blair presidential conference 2009. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Quartet representatives will meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian officials on October 26 and press them to present their ideas on security arrangements and borders for a two-state solution within three months, said Tony Blair, the Quartet envoy to the Middle East, on Wednesday.

The indirect meetings will be held in Jerusalem, three days past the deadline the Quartet set at the UN on September 23 for a direct “preparatory meeting” between the two sides aimed at restarting direct negotiations.

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Blair said the September 23 statement had also called on the parties to set out their “detailed proposals on borders and security in three months.”

“If we can get the parties to agree to do this, then within three months we’ll know where everyone stands on two of the central issues,” Blair told Reuters.

“If we can get to a point where within three months you see what the parties’ proposals are on the borders, you’d see where the gaps are. And that would be in my view a huge advance,” he said.

The Quartet – made up of the US, EU, Russia and UN – issued its framework for restarting the talks last month on the day that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas formally submitted the Palestinian request to the Security Council to be accepted as a UN member state.

The Quartet proposed a “preparatory meeting” between the parties within a month to agree to an agenda and “method of proceeding in the negotiation.” That meeting proved impossible to arrange.

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Government officials would not speculate Thursday whether the swap for Gilad Schalit had anything to do with the Quartet’s inability to get the Palestinians to agree to a direct meeting. Ever since the swap deal was announced, there has been conjecture it would harden the PA’s position and make it even more hardline since Abbas will now have to compete with what is widely seen by the Palestinians as Hamas’s success that came through not bending to Israel.

Blair said Israel’s approval of preliminary plans to build some 1,800 homes in Jerusalem’s Givat Hamatos neighborhood beyond the Green Line, and another 800 in the adjacent Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, “is a problem.”

“The Quartet has continually made clear its concerns and disagreement with this. But I go back to one very simple thing, which is that in the end the best way to resolve this settlement question is to resolve borders,” Blair said.

Blair has faced increasingly vocal criticism from Palestinian officials who have accused him of being pro-Israeli. Some have suggested he should be replaced. Blair denies the accusation of bias.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, criticized the Quartet on Wednesday over what he described as its weak response to the latest Israeli settlement building announcements.

“We had hoped from the Quartet to hear, at the very least, one sentence saying Israel is responsible for destroying the peace process,” Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio. “This is what we will discuss with them,” he said, referring to next week’s meetings.

On Thursday Turkey weighed in with a condemnation of the Givat Hamatos plan, with Today’s Zaman reporting that the Foreign Ministry issued a statement that “strongly condemns Israel for shrugging off international calls and continue building illegal Jewish settlements.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met on Wednesday with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, and thanked her for Colombia’s opposition to the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral steps at the UN. Colombia is currently on the 15-member Security Council, and one of the countries expected not to support the Palestinian bid for statehood.

Seven countries need to either abstain or vote against to make it unnecessary for the US to use its veto to stop the move, as it said it would do.

“I am glad that you also think that peace is reached through direct negotiations, without pre-conditions,” Netanyahu told her, according to a PMO statement.

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