AP Interview: Palestinians want Quartet deal

AP News
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Posted: Apr 15, 2011 5:46 PM
AP Interview: Palestinians want Quartet deal

The top Palestinian diplomat at the United Nations said the Palestinians still want the Quartet of Mideast mediators to take the lead in helping them negotiate a peace treaty with Israel by September.

If that doesn't happen, Riyad Mansour said in an Associated Press interview that the Palestinians expect the international community at the United Nations to take action that would end Israel's occupation and allow for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and its membership in the 192-nation world body.

He blamed Israeli intransigence for the stalled negotiations on a peace treaty and insisted: "We are not going to be hostage to the position of Israel, nor will we accept that nothing can be done until the Israelis are ready and willing."

The Palestinians won an important endorsement Thursday when key donor states meeting in Brussels said that the institutions developed by the Palestinian Authority are now "above the threshold for a functioning state." The donors, who give the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars in aid each year, cited reports prepared by the World Bank, the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund.

Mansour pointed to Israeli and Palestinian agreement on President Barack Obama's target date of September 2011 for a peace agreement, a date endorsed by the European Union and much of the world.

Obama announced that date in September 2010, as direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed, but those talks collapsed weeks later because Israel ended its moratorium on settlement construction.

The Palestinians insist they will not resume peace talks until Israel halts settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem _ lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which the Palestinians want for their future state. Israel maintains that the Palestinians should not be setting conditions for talks and note that in the past they have negotiated while settlement construction continued.

Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, expressed regret that the United States blocked a meeting of the Quartet _ the U.S., U.N., European Union and Russia _ that had been tentatively scheduled to take place Friday in Berlin to discuss, and hopefully endorse, the outlines of a peace settlement proposed by Britain, France and Germany.

A U.S. official said Monday it wasn't the right time and the Obama administration didn't think a Quartet meeting would produce anything that would help restart the talks.

Mansour said "the Palestinian leadership have indicated willingness to go back to negotiations" with Israel if the Quartet agreed on the settlement outlines proposed by the three countries.

The Palestinian envoy said in the interview late Thursday that the Quartet agreed at their last meeting in Munich on Feb. 5 "that they wanted to play an active role, and we want them to play an active role."

"We want them to adopt parameters as a contribution to removing obstacles from the path of going back to direct negotiations, and we hope that the Quartet would succeed in doing so as soon as possible," Mansour said.

The U.S. veto on Feb. 18 of a Security Council resolution that would have condemned "illegal" Israeli settlements and demanded an immediate halt to all settlement building spurred Britain, France and Germany, who supported the measure, to issue a joint statement expressing serious concern about the stalemate in the Middle East peace process.

The three countries said "all settlement activity, including East Jerusalem, should cease immediately" and called for direct negotiations to resume quickly.

For talks to succeed, they said the Israelis and Palestinians must agree on borders of the two states, based on lines before the 1967 Mideast war, with approved land swaps, on the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both and a solution to the question of Palestinian refugees.

Both sides must also agree on security arrangements that respect Palestinian sovereignty "and show that the occupation is over" and protect Israel's security, "prevent the resurgence of terrorism and deal effectively with new and emerging threats," they said.

But putting the job of restarting negotiations in the hands of the Quartet would take it away from the United States, which has been in the forefront of trying to get direct Israeli-Palestinian talks restarted, Mansour said.

U.S. officials say Obama is expected to make a speech on the Mideast in the coming weeks outlining the U.S. position.

"We hope that that position would be in line with the European position, and other partners of the Quartet _ meaning to adopt the principles that were articulated by the Europeans," Mansour said.

Standing in the way of a solution, he said, is Israel's refusal to accept the 1967 borders as a starting point for negotiations and the Palestinians' demand that "not a single Israeli soldier or official" should remain in an independent Palestinian state.

"We have no problem in having a certain number of U.N. forces, NATO, American, combination of them, all of them, to be stationed on our side," Mansour said. But, he added, "Israel is insisting to have some presence, especially in the Jordan Valley and on the tops of mountains and hills overlooking the Jordan Valley."