Key Quartet meeting put off by a month

Some say delay related to regional upheaval, others to PM’s need for more time to develop diplomatic initiative.

Netanyahu 311 reuters (photo credit: Reuters)
Netanyahu 311 reuters
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Quartet has put off for a month a key meeting to discuss the diplomatic process, with officials in Jerusalem saying it was “not impossible” that this was done to give Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu more time to formulate and present a new diplomatic plan.
The meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was originally planned for mid- March on the sidelines of a meeting of the G20 in Paris.
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Both Quartet and European officials confirmed on Wednesday the meeting had been put off until sometime in April.
One Quartet official denied the delay was due to expectation that the prime minister would present a new diplomatic initiative.
Sources around Netanyahu – although not Netanyahu himself – have been talking for a week about such an initiative.
The official said that Quartet meetings were scheduled in both March and April, and that for various reasons the March meeting was canceled.
One Israeli official said the delay might not have had anything to do with Israel, but rather that the members of the Quartet were a “bit preoccupied” right now with other events in the region.
“To be fair,” the official said, “Israel is watching the situation in Libya, but there are countries in the international community – like the US, Britain and France – that are looking at operative actions.”
Israel is concerned the Quartet might adopt a position at its next meeting tilting toward the Palestinian demand for a state along the 1967 lines and calling for Jerusalem to be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state, something the Quartet has refrained from doing – primarily due to objections from the US – until now.
Nevertheless, a lower-level Quartet delegation is due to meet Thursday in Ramallah with Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, and the next day with Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho in Jerusalem.
The delegation met last week in Brussels with Erekat, but Israel decided not to send Molcho, unhappy about the way the invitation was handled.
According to a Quartet official, the purpose of these meetings is to “look for ways to restart the negotiations and see where the sides stand.”
The Quartet will be represented at these meetings by US Mideast envoy George Mitchell’s adviser David Hale; the EU’s deputy secretary-general for the new External Action Service, Helga Schmid; Russian Middle East envoy Sergei Yakovlev; and the UN’s Mideast envoy, Robert Serry.
The head of the Jerusalem office of Quartet envoy Tony Blair, Gary Grappo, will also participate.
In a related development, Netanyahu met on Wednesday with visiting Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick for talks that concentrated on ways to increase science and technological cooperation between that state and Israel. The two men also discussed the possibility of direct flights from Israel to Boston.
At the beginning of the meeting, Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots football team, who accompanied Patrick on his trip to Israel, presented Netanyahu with a New England Patriots football helmet signed by the team’s players.
Kraft is a major supporter of American Football in Israel.