US says Israel, PA support new Quartet approach to talks

Quartet mandated deadline for re-starting talks now 18 days away; US State Department welcomes Israel's readiness to resume negotiations.

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October 4, 2011 22:21
4 minute read.
Netanyahu and Obama meet in New York

Netanyahu Obama 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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In an apparent effort to keep the most recent Quartet initiative alive, the US embassy circulated a statement on Tuesday giving the impression both Israel and the Palestinians have equally accepted a Quartet framework for returning to direct talks, though the Palestinians have not yet formally endorsed the idea.

Under the proposal, Israel and the Palestinians are supposed to sit down for a preparatory meeting by October 23, or two weeks from Sunday.

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The statement by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, released in Washington on Sunday but belatedly distributed here only on Tuesday, addressed Israel’s formal endorsement of the Quartet plan for restarting talks.

“We welcome the Israeli government’s announcement today expressing readiness to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, as called for by the Quartet,” the statement said. “The Palestinians expressed support for the Quartet approach on September 29.”

On Sunday, Israel “welcomed the Quartet’s call for direct negotiations,” while saying it had “some concerns” that it will raise “at the appropriate time.”

The Quartet proposal calls for a preparatory meeting between the parties to agree on an agenda for talks within a month, a date which falls just after Succot.

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The proposal calls for both parties at that meeting to commit to the objective of reaching an agreement no later then the end of 2012, to come up with concrete ideas on borders and security within 90 days and to have made “substantial progress” within six months.

On September 29, PLO secretary- general Yasser Abed Rabbo said after a meeting of the PLO’s executive committee that the Quartet statement “contains encouraging elements, and we call on Israel to announce its commitment to the principle and points of reference it identifies.”

The Palestinians have said that they will not resume talks until Israel completely freezes construction beyond the Green Line, and accepts the pre-1967 lines as the basis for future negotiations.

While neither of these points is mentioned specifically in the Quartet statement, something applauded by Israel, the Palestinians maintain that a clause in that declaration calling upon “the parties to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are to be effective” is in fact a call on Israel to stop settlement construction.

Regarding the pre-1967 lines as the baseline for talks, the Palestinians maintain that the Quartet accepted that position when it “reaffirmed its statement of [the] 20th [of] May 2011, including its strong support for the vision of Israeli- Palestinian peace outlined by United States President Barack Obama.”

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 The vision referred to was Obama’s State Department speech on May 19 when he said negotiations should be based on the pre-1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps.

The Palestinians have called on the Quartet members – the US, EU, Russia and the UN – to provide further clarifications regarding settlement construction and the “terms of reference” for the negotiations.

The Quartet statement for restarting talks was released on September 23 in New York following speeches to the UN General Assembly by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Abbas announced during his speech that the Palestinians were formally applying for full statehood membership in the UN.

Diplomatic officials said that there were currently intensive efforts behind the scenes, including during US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s visit to the region on Tuesday, to prod the sides back to the table.

In a related development, Israel continued to maintain a silence on Tuesday over a US congressional decision – despite the US administration’s opposition – to withhold some $200 million in financial assistance to the PA.

In August, Netanyahu told large Democratic and Republican congressional delegations visiting the country that the time was not yet right to financially sanction the PA, because it was unclear what would happen at the UN. He reportedly made these comments at the request of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But while it was one thing to give an opinion to congressional delegations before a decision was made, lobbying against a decision once it was taken was “a bridge too far,” one government official said, explaining the government’s current silence on this matter.

Asked what Israel’s preference was regarding the funds, the official sidestepped, saying that what Israel wanted was for the PA not to take its statehood bid to the UN, and to return to negotiations without preconditions.

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