The Mideast Quartet last week unveiled a new Middle East peace proposal and an ambitious timeline to reach an Israel-Palestinian deal by the end of 2012, and for now both parties are set to study the plan. The statement by the Quartet—the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia—calls for Israel and the Palestinians to hold a preparatory meeting to set the structure for new talks within a month.
An Israeli spokesperson, speaking by phone with The Mideast Update on Sunday, said, “Israel is studying favorably the Quartet statement.”
The Palestinians are also planning to study it as well, but with reservations and skepticism. According to a report from the WAFA Palestinian news agency, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters that they were still sticking to their preconditions that Israel halt settlement activities and agree to the 1967 lines as the basis for talks.
Abbas said he would not accept an option that does not address those two demands. However, he wouldn’t comment on the Quartet statement until he had reviewed it.
“We will not neglect any political initiative and it is politically wrong to ignore initiatives because there may be some positive elements in them which we can build on and develop,” Abbas was quoted by WAFA as saying.
The Quartet statement called for peace talks to resume without preconditions and did not mention the 1967 lines, which would grant the Palestinians the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian conditions could still be addressed. The preparatory peace meeting in the Quartet proposal did ask the parties to agree on “an agenda and method of proceeding in the negotiation.” The statement also reiterated “strong support” for the vision of US President Barack Obama, which he encased in a proposal in May that did refer to the ’67 lines, with agreed upon land swaps.
A senior US administration official told reporters in a background briefing following the Quartet statement that the Americans had brought Obama’s proposals to the Quartet discussion. According to a transcript of the conversation provided by the US State Department, the official said the preparatory meeting proposed by the Quartet is intended for the parties to discuss “what’s necessary for those talks to succeed, and then to focus on what the President has offered, which frankly will provide the framework for these talks.”
The official noted the Israelis had been receptive to some of the ideas brought up by the US, although it was unclear if that openness also applied to the final Quartet statement.
“The United States had offered a lot of ideas, based on the President’s remarks, of how we could proceed,” said the US official. “Frankly, the Israelis have responded quite flexibly. I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu, in fact, referred to this process in his speech today [last Friday at the UN], responded quite flexibly and responsibly to some of these ideas. In the Quartet discussions, there were other ideas that were voiced.”
The US official was less specific regarding the Palestinian response. “I think that our discussions with Palestinians have also been very constructive, and I firmly believe President Abbas is committed to doing everything he can to get into successful negotiations,” the official was quoted as saying. “For us, this Quartet statement provides that avenue, and we will be consulting with them in the days and weeks ahead.”
The Quartet statement followed the Palestinian submission of an application for full UN membership. The bid has been presented to the UN Security Council. In the past the US had pledged to veto such a request if necessary.
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, September 25, 2011)