Blair meets PM, Fayyad in effort to engage sides

Israeli official says J'lem wants to see resumption of peace talks, "diplomatic work going on behind the scenes."

Quartet envoy Tony Blair and PM Netanyahu 311 (R) (photo credit: Pool / Reuters)
Quartet envoy Tony Blair and PM Netanyahu 311 (R)
(photo credit: Pool / Reuters)
Quartet envoy Tony Blair met separately Sunday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in an effort to keep the sides engaged and the situation stable.
Blair’s visit comes in advance of a scheduled meeting of the Quartet in Washington on April 11. On Monday he will hold meetings in Jordan and on Tuesday, US Middle East envoy David Hale will follow Blair to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
An Israeli official said the country wanted to see a resumption of diplomatic talks with the Palestinians, and that there was “diplomatic work going on behind the scenes” to get them restarted.
The official characterized Blair as a “relevant interlocutor” who has been “in and out” of the Prime Minister’s Office repeatedly in recent weeks.
Throughout January, Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho met chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat five times for low-level preparatory talks in Jordan. The last round was held on January 25, and the Palestinians said they would not resume until Israel stopped settlement construction, agreed that negotiations would begin to use the pre-1967 lines as the baseline and consented to the release of several Fatah prisoners.
In late January and early February Blair was involved in intensive talks with Netanyahu on creating a package of economic incentives to keep the Palestinians in the talks.
The issues discussed at the time were primarily economic in nature, such as giving the Palestinians greater access to Area C – the area comprising 62 percent of the West Bank that is under Israeli control – to develop their economy.
Those efforts seemed to founder, however, when PA President Mahmoud Abbas signed an agreement with Hamas in Doha in early February.
Israel took a “wait and see” attitude regarding those talks, not breaking off contact with the Palestinian Authority because of a sense that the talks would not succeed.
In recent weeks, Israeli anger at the PA centered not on any strides Fatah made toward reconciling with Hamas, but rather with moves the PA initiated at the UN.
One such move was the recent decision by the UN Human Rights Council to appoint a fact-finding mission to study the impact of the settlements on Palestinian human rights.
This move was fiercely denounced by Israel, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman calling it “diplomatic terror,” and the Foreign Ministry saying the Palestinians needed to “understand that they cannot have it both ways – they cannot enjoy cooperation with Israel and at the same time initiate political clashes in international forums.”
In private conversations Liberman was quoted as saying that the current diplomatic process with the Palestinians had come to an end, and there was a need to completely reassess the situation.
At the same time, there has been a great deal of discussion in recent weeks about a letter Abbas planned to deliver to Netanyahu and the Quartet outlining the Palestinians’ conditions for resuming the diplomatic process.
Palestinian officials said last month that the letter would hold Israel responsible for the failure of the diplomatic process because of its insistence on settlement construction and refusal to recognize the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution.
Israeli officials denied firsthand knowledge of any such a letter, saying that merely restating previous Palestinian preconditions would be unproductive.
Meanwhile, the Quartet principles – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – are scheduled to meet in Washington to discuss ways to move the diplomatic process forward.
The Quartet last had an informal conversation on the sidelines of a UN meeting that took place during last month’s spate of rocket attacks in the South, but did not issue any significant policy statement at that time.
In September 2011 the Quartet met at the UN and – calling for an Israeli-PA accord by the end of 2012 – issued guidelines for renewing negotiations. Those guidelines have so far led nowhere.