Israel welcomes peace talks plan

October 2, 2011

Israel on Sunday agreed to a proposal by international mediators to resume peace negotiations after the initiative was positively received by the Palestinians, but there were no signs that a dispute over Israeli settlement building that has blocked talks was any closer to being resolved.

The proposal by the Quartet of Middle East mediators — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — calls for a meeting this month to set the agenda for negotiations, followed by talks on borders and security, with the goal of reaching an overall agreement by the end of 2012.

“Israel welcomes the Quartet’s call for direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions, as called for by both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu,” said a statement from the prime minister’s office.

“While Israel has some concerns, it will raise them at the appropriate time,” the statement said. “Israel calls on the Palestinian Authority to do the same and enter into direct negotiations without delay.”

The Quartet proposal was put forward Sept. 23 as the Palestinians submitted an application for membership of a Palestinian state at the United Nations. The application is under consideration by the U.N. Security Council and is opposed by Israel and Washington, which has warned it would veto the move.

The Obama administration applauded the Israeli step.

“The United States once again calls on both parties to resume negotiations without preconditions, on the timetable proposed by the Quartet,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Sunday. For both sides, she said, the Quartet plan remains “the best means to advance their interests, resolve their differences, and fulfill the president’s two-state vision.”

The Quartet proposal to revive talks has been interpreted differently by Israel and the Palestinians, with each side finding language in the statement that echoes its views. The Israelis note that the plan calls for negotiations without preconditions. The Palestinians cite its reference to a peace blueprint that requires Israel to freeze settlement activity on land the Palestinians seek for a state.

The Palestinians have refused to resume talks unless Israel stops building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and accepts that its 1967 boundaries should be the basis for a future peace deal. They argue that negotiations have served as a cover for Israeli settlement expansion, determining in advance the contours of a final agreement.

That position was reiterated Sunday by Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who said that resuming negotiations “requires Israel to commit to stopping settlement” and to recognize “the 1967 borders.”

The Quartet plan calls for a resumption of direct negotiations “without delay or preconditions.” But it also calls on both sides to “refrain from provocative actions” and cites their obligations under a 2003 peace blueprint known as the road map, which requires Israel to freeze settlement activity and the Palestinians to stop violence.

Israel’s decision last week to advance plans to build 1,100 homes on West Bank land annexed to Jerusalem was sharply criticized by Washington, the United Nations and the European Union as undermining efforts to resume negotiations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected another settlement freeze after a 10-month moratorium on new building expired in September 2010, leading the Palestinians to break off talks.

The Palestinian leadership said Thursday that there were many “encouraging elements” in the Quartet plan, including its reference to the road map obligations and Obama’s speech in May outlining an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal based on the 1967 lines, with land swaps.

Nabil Shaath, a senior aide to Abbas, said later that there were “very few flaws” in the initiative.

Staff writer Joby Warrick in Washington contributed to this report.

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