Quartet to hold separate talks with Mideast parties

Reuters News

10/17/2011 5:10:03 PM - Reuters News

By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - International mediators will meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian officials on October 26 in Jerusalem to try to revive direct peace talks that ended more than a year ago, the United States said on Monday.

Instead of meeting face-to-face as the mediators originally sought, the Israelis and Palestinians will hold separate talks with the "Quartet" made up of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States.

Analysts said the fact the Quartet could not meet even its own goals -- laid out in a September 23 statement that called for a "preparatory meeting between the parties" within a month -- showed the extreme difficulty of reviving actual negotiations.

Despite making Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority, U.S. President Barack Obama has little to show for his efforts. His success at getting the parties back into direct talks in September 2010 collapsed within weeks and his special envoy for Middle East peace, George Mitchell, stepped down in May.

The Quartet has since taken a lead in the effort to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that collapsed more than a year ago over the issue of Israeli construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The last round ended after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month limited moratorium on settlement construction, something Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had demanded to continue negotiations.

"The Quartet envoys will be meeting with the parties in Jerusalem on October 26 ... with the aim to begin preparations and develop an agenda for proceeding in the negotiations," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

He later said the Quartet envoys would meet separately with the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Quartet envoy Tony Blair, Britain's former prime minister, will attend the meetings, a spokesman for his office said.

Daniel Levy, a New America Foundation analyst, said hopes for a substantive preparatory meeting had died with Netanyahu's prisoner exchange agreement with Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and is the main political rival to Abbas' Fatah that exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank.

"The Quartet and elements thereof have been talking separately to the parties during this entire 13-month hiatus in direct talks," he said.

"There is absolutely nothing new in the Quartet meeting the parties separately," Levy said.

"To the extent to which there might have been an outside chance at a working-level ... preparatory meeting, I think the final kibosh was put on that when Israel concluded the prisoner exchange deal with Hamas, making its choice in terms of Palestinian interlocutors quite clear and squeezing the political space for maneuver for Abbas even further."

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)