International Mideast mediators will hold separate talks with the Israelis and Palestinians this week in a bid to re-launch stalled peace talks after a series of setbacks that have badly damaged prospects for negotiations, the State Department said Tuesday.
Senior diplomats from the U.S., U.N., Russia and European Union will meet on Friday in Jerusalem with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, department spokesman Victoria Nuland told reporters. The group, known as the "Quartet," is trying to bring the two sides back to the table with the goal of reaching a deal by the end of next year.
Despite its efforts, the parties are far away from resuming negotiations. The Palestinians have refused to talk unless Israel halts settlement activity, and Israel has retaliated against the Palestinians over their bid for U.N. recognition.
Last week, the Palestinians won membership in the U.N. cultural organization, prompting Israel to announce it would speed up settlement construction in disputed territory and withhold millions of dollars in tax money it collects for the Palestinians.
"We've had a cycle of action and reaction that we thought was counterproductive and difficult, so (we want) to try to improve the atmosphere," Nuland said. "We want to get these parties back to focusing on the Quartet proposal for how they can move forward to narrow the gaps between them, and not focused on other issues that can do damage to the environment for peace."
On Sept. 23, the Quartet called on the two sides to hold a preliminary meeting within a month to discuss the parameters of formal peace talks and then to return within 90 days with proposals on land swaps and security. The preliminary meeting never happened, although the Quartet convened the two sides separately on Oct. 26.
"The objective (is) to encourage them and offer support to them and assistance to them in coming up with proposals for each other on land and on security, which we would hope could be exchanged within 90 days from the end of October," Nuland said.
Ahead of the quartet's meetings, the Obama administration's special Mideast peace envoy, David Hale, will meet separately on Nov. 13 with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, Nuland said.
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