The U.S. and other Mideast mediators won't be able to revive direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks by the end of this weekend, missing the first deadline in a plan to reach a two-state agreement by the end of next year and sidestep a contentious U.N. vote over Palestinian statehood without defined borders, U.S. officials said Monday.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the "quartet" of Mideast mediators will meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian officials next week, but Israel and the Palestinians weren't returning to the same negotiating table.
The quartet of the U.S., United Nations, European Union and Russia had demanded last month that both sides return to direct negotiations by Oct. 23, and the failure to meet that modest goal highlights the intractability of the conflict. The Jewish state continues to expand settlements in east Jerusalem and the Palestinians refuse to drop their request for U.N. recognition as an independent state and membership in the global body.
Toner said the Oct. 26 meeting in Jerusalem would aim to establish an agenda for future Israeli-Palestinian talks, but he gave no date for when those might occur. Israel and the Palestinians haven't negotiated in more than a year, and next week's talks are essentially a continuation of the current diplomatic efforts.
The quartet set the deadline for preliminary Israeli-Palestinian talks on Sept. 23, just hours after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas presented the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations. Toner said next week's talks would be in "accordance with the timetable," even if they come three days after the deadline, and that they will move the sides "towards direct negotiations."
"That is our ultimate goal," Toner said.
The format of separate talks with Israel and the Palestinians represents a setback for the Obama administration, which has been trying to rally opposition in the international community to the Palestinians' U.N. action but has been unable to present the Palestinians a viable alternative that might lead to an independent state anytime soon.
In an interview last week with The Associated Press, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said mediators had proposed an Israeli-Palestinian meeting this month and that the global spotlight on the conflict should be a catalyst to bring the sides into tough bargaining.
"The whole world is saying now is the moment," Clinton said.
But it appears mediators haven't devised a formula satisfying the Palestinian demand for a freeze on Israeli settlements for peace talks to occur, and the Israeli demand that there be no preconditions on the negotiations. U.S. officials earlier had hoped that the two sides would meet on Oct. 23 in Jordan, and that they'd discuss the issues directly.
The Obama administration has insisted that a peace agreement must be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinians, vowing to veto any U.N. Security Council resolution recommending U.N. membership for an independent Palestine.