Quartet talks unlikely to jump-start negotiations

Abbas tells US envoy David Hale that Palestinians will not hold direct talks without a settlement freeze.

quartet REUTERS 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
quartet REUTERS 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Quartet members arrive in Israel Monday with little hope of bridging the gulf that divides the Israeli and the Palestinian leadership and has prevented the resumption of negotiations.
In Ramallah on Sunday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas told US envoy David Hale that the Palestinians would not hold direct talks with Israel unless it froze West Bank settlement activity and stopped construction in east Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods.
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In addition, Abbas said, Israel must accept the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution.
Abbas also told Hale that the Palestinians are prepared to work with the Quartet members – the US, EU, UN and Russia – on all the core issues like Jerusalem, borders, refugees and security, according to chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Reports of the meeting disappointed but did not surprise Israeli officials, who have listened to a similar refrain for close to three years.
Palestinians stopped talking with Israel when it attacked Gaza in December 2008 and refused to resume talks when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took office in March 2009.
Except for a few meetings in September 2010, no negotiations have taken place even though Netanyahu has repeatedly called on the Palestinians to talk without preconditions.
“The fundamental reason for a current impasse in the peace process is the decision taken by the Palestinians to refuse to engage, to refuse to negotiate,” said an Israeli official on Sunday.
“They have been piling on preconditions that were never placed on the negotiations before [such as a construction freeze],” said the official.
“All the core issues can be negotiated in the framework of peace talks,” the official said.
“But piling on preconditions that prevent the resumption of talks is in no way beneficial to the cause of peace,” the official said.
“It is high time that the Palestinians heed the Quartet’s call and agree to the resumption of peace talks without preconditions,” the official said.
“For the time being the Palestinian leadership is wasting everyone’s time and doing their own people a disservice,” said the official.
In the last months, the Quartet has explored a number of conciliatory formulas, including Palestinian recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, in exchange for a West Bank settlement freeze.
An alternative formula asks the Palestinians to drop their demand for a settlement freeze in exchange for acceptable language on the borders of a two-state solution.
But as of Sunday night, no formula had been found that would bring both sides back to the table.
On Monday, Quartet representatives, including its envoy Tony Blair, will meet with Erekat in Ramallah and speak in Jerusalem with the prime minister’s special envoy for the talks Yitzhak Molho.
The meetings come just days after a Palestinian bid to bypass talks in favor of unilateral statehood at the United Nations, appeared to have failed.
The Palestinians had asked the UN Security Council to grant it full UN membership; but as of Friday did not have the nine votes need for the initiative to pass.
The US has opposed the move. In his Ramallah meeting with Hale on Sunday, Abbas urged the US administration to reconsider its opposition to the Palestinian application for full membership in the UN.
Abbas, according to Erekat, stressed that the Palestinian statehood bid was not aimed at delegitimizing or isolating Israel, but to achieve the two-state solution.