International Efforts Under Way to Revive Mideast Peace Process

Posted November 14th, 2011 at 5:25 pm (UTC-5)
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The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators seeking to revive the stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians held separate talks with the two sides Monday, but expectations of a breakthrough are low.

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said after the meeting the Palestinians are ready to discuss all issues, once Israel proves its commitment by freezing all construction of Israeli settlements on land Palestinians want as part of a future state.

Palestinians also want Israel to agree to base the borders of a future state on boundaries that existed before Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.

Israeli negotiator Yitzak Molcho said his team was willing to talk with the Palestinians “anytime and anyplace” without conditions. Israel has accused the Palestinian side of raising more demands as a condition of returning to the negotiating table.

Also Monday, the Israeli cabinet decided to continue to withhold some $100 million in tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority. Israel has refused to transfer the funds since November 1, a day after the Palestinians won full membership in the U.N. cultural heritage agency, UNESCO, as part of their unilateral drive for statehood.

Israel, the United States and several of their allies voted against the move and Washington cut funding to the agency. U.S. laws bar the government from funding any U.N. agency that admits Palestinians as a full member.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama said he used a private November 3 meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to express “significant disappointment” with a French vote in favor of Palestinians joining the U.N. agency.

The meeting, held ahead of a Group of 20 summit in the French city of Cannes, made international headlines after Elysee staff accidentally transmitted part of the leaders' conversation criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The reporters heard Mr. Sarkozy describing Mr. Netanyahu as a “liar whom he cannot bear.” Mr. Obama appeared to sympathize with Mr. Sarkozy, saying “You may be sick of Mr. Netanyahu, but I have to work with him every day.”

During a news conference in Honolulu late Sunday, Mr. Obama refused to comment on that part of the conversation. He said he made the argument to Mr. Sarkozy that the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and create a Palestinian state is for both sides to “sit down at the table and negotiate.” Mr. Obama noted that Palestinian efforts to bypass that process by seeking recognition of statehood through the United Nations will not work.