Quartet Checks on Israeli, Palestinian Progress on Borders Proposals

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been suspended for more than a year, but international mediators are still trying to move forward in determining how far apart the sides are on borders and security. With that in mind, envoys from the Mideast Quartet—consisting of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia—met with the sides separately in Jerusalem on Monday.

According to a press statement released by the EU, the envoys “discussed with the parties their development of proposals on territory and security in the context of our shared commitment to direct talks.”

However, it doesn’t appear the sides are any closer to restarting negotiations, as the Palestinians continue to demand that Israel again freeze settlement construction before talks resume. The Palestinians are also demanding that Israel accept the 1967 lines as the basis for borders talks—effectively conceding the amount of territory to be received by the Palestinians, although the specifics would still need to be negotiated.

The preconditions were reiterated on Monday after the Quartet meeting by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, according to the WAFA Palestinian news agency.

The Israelis slammed the Palestinian Authority (PA) for not returning to talks already. Prime Minister’s spokesman Ofir Gendelman, in his Twitter feed, said the PA “keeps presenting obsolete positions” to the Quartet, which he said is “creating a charade as if it’s ready for negotiations while in fact it avoids them.”

The Quartet again called for the two sides to resume direct negotiations “without delay or preconditions.” The current focus on borders and security, according to an interview from Quartet envoy Tony Blair to the Los Angeles Times last month, is “not quite” indirect talks with the Quartet acting as mediator. Instead, he said it is more to check on how far apart the sides are from each other to “see if there’s a basis for negotiation.”

Absent from the latest EU-released statement on the Quartet’s work was any explicit mention of the timeline for presenting proposals on borders/security, which previously had been called for within three months. A past Quartet statement­—which did call for the timeline—was mentioned, however.

The Israelis are willing to work with the Quartet to try and get back to talks, but they don’t want the borders discussions to turn into indirect negotiations.

“Israel is working with the Quartet to find, we hope, a framework which will lead to the early-as-possible resumption of direct talks,” an anonymous Israeli official told The Mideast Update last week.

“There is no substitute for direct talks, and we have no intention of allowing the Quartet discussions to become a substitute for direct talks.”

The EU statement said the Quartet envoys intend to hold another meeting in December, presumably with the sides, as well as to “remain in close contact with each other and the parties.”

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, November 14, 2011)