Quartet envoys search for elusive peace talks formula

Meeting on ways to avert diplomatic showdown at UN in September ends with no progress; senior US official: "We need to do more work, privately."

quartet dinner washington (photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
quartet dinner washington
(photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
Discussions on finding a framework to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiation table continued among Quartet envoys Tuesday in Washington – even though a high-level meeting of the Quartet the night before failed to come up with a formula agreeable to both sides.
Israeli and US officials were on the phone late Monday night and throughout the day Tuesday in what one Israeli official called “ongoing discussions.”
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“We would like to see them put out a statement that would be balanced,” the officials said.
The official said Israel was concerned that the Quartet might put out a statement that would be clear about border issues – such as adopting US President Barack Obama’s comment about the 1967 lines, with mutual agreed swaps, being the baseline of talks – without being equally clear on cardinal issues for Israel.
The official said that Israel was looking for language that would be very explicit about Israel being a Jewish state, and on security issues.
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“If that type of language was inserted,” the official said, “it would make it easier for the Israeli public to accept certain formulations about borders.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted the three other Quartet representatives – EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – for a dinner Monday night that lasted some two-and-a-half hours, but did not produce a statement. Quartet envoy Tony Blair also participated.
The Quartet meeting at this level was called as a last-ditch attempt to find a formula for the talks that would then prevent the Palestinians from asking for statehood recognition at the UN in September.
The Palestinians were looking for a Quartet call for negotiations to begin using the 1967 lines, with mutual agreed swaps, as a baseline – and a call for ending Israeli construction in east Jerusalem and the settlements.
Israel wanted any formula to include a reference to Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and for language ensuring that any agreement would signify an end to the conflict.
An EU official said after the meeting failed to produce a statement that the “work is very complex, and the discussion of language and issues is ongoing.”
The official added that the meeting Monday evening was “substantial,” and dealt with “a lot of issues in great depth – but there are still gaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
According to the official, the Quartet’s envoys were tasked with immediately taking the discussion further. The envoys are expected to meet with representatives of both sides and try to find ways to narrow the gaps.
A senior Obama administration official who briefed reporters said that more work needs to be done to “close those gaps.”
“There is a time and a place for public statements, and there is a time and a place for private diplomacy,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report