Quartet envoys to meet before deadline to resume talks

“We’re not pinning high hopes on the Quartet meeting,” PA tells 'Post'; optimistic that the Palestinians will get votes for statehood bid.

Abbas European Parliament 311 (photo credit: Vincent Kessler/Reuters)
Abbas European Parliament 311
(photo credit: Vincent Kessler/Reuters)
Two weeks after the Quartet issued a proposal for renewing Israeli-Palestinian talks, and 14 days before the talks – under that proposal – are to begin, Quartet representatives will meet Sunday in Brussels to discuss how to move forward.
While Israel formally accepted the Quartet formula, the Palestinian Authority – though saying the proposal contained “encouraging elements” – has not yet formally done so.
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PA spokesmen have said the Palestinians would only enter talks if Israel froze settlement construction and accepted the pre-1967 lines as the baseline for negotiations, something Jerusalem is refusing to do.
The Quartet proposal called on both parties to commit to a meeting to be held no later than October 23, with the objective of reaching an agreement by 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.
While the Palestinians have called on the Quartet members to provide further clarifications regarding settlement construction and the “terms of reference” for the negotiations, a PA official in Ramallah said over the weekend the PA had low expectations regarding Sunday’s meeting.
“Our position remains unchanged,” the official told The Jerusalem Post. “We’re not pinning high hopes on the Quartet meeting because our demands have not been met.”
The official said that if the Quartet was serious about achieving a resumption of the peace negotiations, it should put pressure on Israel to stop all activities in the settlements and recognize the pre-1967 lines as the future borders between a Palestinian state and Israel.
An Israeli government official, however, said Israel’s position was that it accepted the proposal for a resumption of the talks without pre-conditions, and viewed that as the only way forward.
Only if the international community stresses “in an ongoing and consistent” manner that talks need to be started immediately, and without pre-conditions, will the Palestinians ever agree to returning to the negotiating table, the official said.
Unlike the meeting at the UN on September 23 that was attended by the so-called “Quartet principals” – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and Quartet envoy Tony Blair – this meeting will be at the level of Middle East envoys.
The US is expected to be represented by David Hale; the EU by Helga Schmid; Russia by Mikhail Margelov; and the UN by Robert Serry.
PA continues to lobby UNSC members on statehood vote
The PA, meanwhile, is pursuing its efforts to secure the support of at least nine members of the UN Security Council in favor of its statehood bid, which it announced last month at the UN. In order for the PA to be accepted as a member state of the UN, it must first get a recommendation from the Security Council. For this, at least nine of the council’s 15 members must vote in favor.
The PA official said there was “optimism” in Ramallah that the Palestinians would be able to get nine votes on the Security Council. Even if it does, however, the US has made clear it would veto the move.
Nevertheless, the PA’s “optimistic” assessment of garnering nine votes, and thereby forcing the US to use its veto, was not universally shared, with a Western diplomatic official saying that it appeared that all the EU countries on the Security Council – France, Britain, Germany and Portugal – would not support the bid.
While Portugal has long been considered one of the least supportive countries of Israel inside the EU, the country – facing severe economic difficulties – voted in a center-right government in the summer to replace a government led by the country’s Socialist party, leading to a slight shift toward Israel.
The official also said that Bosnia-Herzegovina, as a “potential candidate country” for EU accession, was likely to vote with the other EU states.
One other country of the 15 – among Colombia, Nigeria or Gabon – would have to vote against or abstain, as well to deprive the Palestinians of their nine votes.
Colombia and Israel have close ties, and Nigeria’s president indicated to Defense Minister Ehud Barak when they met at the UN in September that his country would not support the Palestinian move.
The other countries on the Security Council – Russia, China, Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa – are widely expected to vote for the PA move.
PA negotiator Nabil Sha’ath said the Palestinians have launched a “diplomatic offensive” aimed at winning the backing of as many countries at the UN as possible for its statehood effort.
He pointed out that until a few months ago only 94 countries supported the statehood bid, whereas today the number stands at 131 – two-thirds of the 193 members of the UN General Assembly. If the PA received a Security Council recommendation, it would need to win a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly to be accepted as a member state.
“The only countries that vote against in the UN General Assembly are the US, Israel, a tiny country called Micronesia, which has a population of 50,000, and sometimes Canada,” Sha’ath said. “If the US vetoes our application, we have a number of options, including going to the UN General Assembly.”
Without a Security Council recommendation, however, the most the PA could get in the General Assembly would be an upgrade of its status from “observer” to non-member state.
Sha’ath warned that if the Security Council continues to delay the vote over the statehood application, the PA would ask for a special session of the council to look into the matter. However, he pointed out that until now there was no delay because the application was being reviewed by a legal committee of the Security Council.
Sha’ath ruled out the possibility that the Palestinians would resort to violence if the application is not approved.
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