Israel Accepts Plan to Restart Mideast Talks

Posted October 2nd, 2011 at 9:00 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Israel has formally accepted an international plan for restarting peace negotiations with the Palestinians, but the immediate resumption of talks appears unlikely as the two sides continue to differ over terms of the proposal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday welcomed “the Quartet's call for direct negotiations without preconditions.” He said Israel has concerns about the plan that it will raise at the “appropriate time.” But he did not elaborate.

The Quartet of Mideast peace mediators issued a declaration last month calling for negotiations to resume “without delay or preconditions.”

The statement does not explicitly mention a settlement freeze. But it calls on the two sides “to refrain from provocative actions” and cites their obligations under the 2003 “road map” – a U.S.-backed plan that calls for a complete halt to settlement activity. The Palestinians say the statement also accommodates their demand for Israel's pre-1967 boundaries to serve as the basis for border talks.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the Quartet statement requires Israel to accept several positions before negotiations can begin, including a settlement freeze.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Sunday that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East. He said Israeli leaders must restart negotiations with the Palestinians and work to restore relations with Egypt and Turkey.

In a blunt assessment made as he was traveling to Israel, Panetta said the ongoing upheaval in the Middle East makes it critical for the Israelis to find ways to communicate with other nations in the region in order to have stability. He said Israel risks eroding its own security if it does not reach out to its neighbors.

Panetta is scheduled to meet this week with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and then travel to a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.

Palestinians have accused Israel of violating the spirit of the Quartet's proposal by approving a plan to build 1,100 housing units in the predominantly Jewish district of Gilo in annexed East Jerusalem. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as a future capital and they view any Israeli construction there as illegal settlement activity.

The United States expressed deep disappointment with the Israeli move while the European Union condemned it. Israel rejected the criticism, saying Gilo is an integral part of its undivided capital and will remain so in any future peace deal.

Israeli officials have expressed concern about some parts of the latest Quartet declaration, including its call for “substantial progress” on issues of “territory” and “security” within six months. The officials say that such matters should be discussed alongside other core disputes of the conflict, including the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.