Europe Wants Timetable in Quartet Package to Renew Peace Talks

UNITED NATIONS—Less than 24 hours before the Palestinians were set to address the United Nations General Assembly, the Mideast Quartet was still trying to put together a package to restart Mideast peace talks. Talks regarding a potential statement from the Quartet—the United States, the European Union, the UN and Russia—on the matter were still ongoing as of Thursday night.

The EU is hoping to form a strong Quartet statement as part of a package to encourage the parties to return to negotiations. The EU would like to see such a statement include a timeframe for talks.

While it remains unclear what timeline the Quartet is considering, French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed an ambitious timetable in his UN General Assembly speech on Wednesday. He called for talks to resume in one month, agreement on borders and security within six months and a year to reach a final deal.

The United States has sounded supportive of a timeline approach in general, according to a transcript provided by the White House of comments to reporters from US Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes.

Commenting on US President Barack Obama’s discussion with Sarkozy this week, Rhodes said on Wednesday, “As it relates to some of the issues around getting to direct talks, there’s a lot of overlap with the things that President Obama has said—including, again, the sense of urgency, the notion that you might build in some metrics around timelines. It’s something that we’ve been discussing through the Quartet process. So that’s an idea that has been on the table in the Quartet process, in the Quartet talks.”

This wouldn’t be the first time a timetable has been brought up for Middle East peace negotiations. The previous round of Israel-Palestinian talks was supposed to reach some sort of framework agreement within a year, but recently missed that deadline.

As for the efficacy of a new Quartet proposal, it remains to be seen if an arrangement for returning to talks that is acceptable to all parties can be reached. However, US officials in comments to the press have mentioned the bigger picture beyond this week at the UN. In light of that, it appears that even with the Palestinians set to apply for full UN membership at the Security Council on Friday, the Quartet efforts are likely to continue after the Palestinians submit their bid.

Israel has repeatedly called for the renewal of peace talks, including a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week. The Palestinians have placed preconditions on talks, with the main sticking point being Israeli settlement construction.

Israel previously instated a 10-month partial construction freeze in 2009-10, but the Palestinians refused to restart direct peace talks with the Israelis until the freeze was nearing its end. They then suspended the talks after the settlement moratorium concluded.

Netanyahu addressed that issue in comments to the media prior to his meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday. In a press release sent out by the US State Department, Netanyahu was quoted as saying that he “did something that no previous Israeli government did. I actually froze any construction for ten months, waited nine months and one week; the Palestinians finally came and said, well, keep on freezing.

“So I think wisely—and we concluded with the United States—that what we really have to do is get on with the real issues and get down and negotiate all these issues in order to get peace. We have to negotiate the issues to resolve them. We can’t just negotiate about the negotiations.”

The push for the sides to resume peace talks has been a repeated theme in UN General Assembly speeches this week. On Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron shared his own views on the issue during his speech. The United Kingdom is one of five nations with veto power in the Security Council. In his speech, Cameron called for Israel and the Palestinians to “to take the bold steps to come to the table and make lasting peace.”

He also addressed the expected Palestinian membership move at the UN. “There has been much speculation about what will happen here this week,” said Cameron. “Let’s be clear about one fact. No resolution can, on its own, substitute for the political will necessary to bring peace. Peace will only come when Palestinians and Israelis sit down and talk to each other, make compromises, build trust and agree.”

Cameron restated his support for a Palestinian state “living in peace alongside a safe and secure State of Israel” and later noted that the international community has a role to “support Palestinians and Israelis alike to make peace.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, September 23, 2011)