JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Envoys from the Quartet of international powers trying to mediate peace in the Middle East will meet in Jerusalem next week for the first time since Palestinian Islamists seized control of the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli government and diplomats in the city said on Friday that the envoys from the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia would meet on Tuesday — a day after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas holds his first talks in two months with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “We are aware of such a meeting of the Quartet,” said Miri Eisin, Olmert’s spokeswoman, after Russia’s Middle East envoy Sergei Yakovlev had announced that there would be talks.
One of several Western diplomatic sources in Jerusalem who confirmed Tuesday’s plan described it as a “higher working-level meeting”. “Things are obviously developing quickly,” he said.
Another said that a focus in the talks, which would not involve the Israelis and Palestinians directly, would be the preparation of a full meeting the following week among U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the other ministers.
In Brussels, EU officials said Rice, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana would all be in Paris this coming Monday for talks on Sudan, raising a possibility they could also discuss the Middle East. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was not expected.
One diplomat in Jerusalem said Tuesday’s meeting of senior officials would address Russian concerns on the agenda for the next full Quartet meeting, which he said could be held in Paris the following week.
These included, the diplomat said, Moscow’s reservations on giving more support to Abbas’s emergency government against its Hamas rivals in Gaza and on the possibility of naming outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair as the Quartet’s full-time mediator.
Olmert and aides to Abbas have spoken of a “new beginning” at Monday’s summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, now that the exclusion of Hamas from a new government based in Abbas’s West Bank stronghold has prompted the lifting of Israeli and Western sanctions on the Palestinian Authority. But Israeli and Palestinian officials are deeply sceptical that two weak and hardly popular leaders can deliver concessions to the other that could bring progress toward reopening full negotiations on the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Given that for the past week one of the two territories earmarked for that state, Gaza, is under the control of an administration which neither Abbas nor Olmert will talk to, the prospects for substantive change seem remote, many say.