NEW YORK (AFP) – Israel has faced a new surge of calls to extend a freeze on Jewish settlements on the eve of a meeting of four key diplomatic players trying to boost fledgling Middle East peace talks.
The United Nations and the European Union — which along with the United States and Russia make up the diplomatic quartet on the Middle East — made the fresh calls Monday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her quartet counterparts were to meet here Tuesday to discuss new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that are threatened by the expiration at the end of the month of the settlement freeze.
In his meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres on Monday, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas reiterated that the Palestinians “will not negotiate for a single day” if the 10-month moratorium lapses, sources close to Abbas said.
However, the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given no sign it will continue the freeze.
Meanhile, in his own talks with Peres, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stressed the importance of extending the moratorium, a UN spokesman said.
Ban and Peres “spoke of the need to maintain calm on the ground and to create an environment that is propitious” for the success of negotiations with the Palestinians, the spokesman said.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s chief diplomat, issued a similar appeal after talks with Clinton in a New York hotel.
“It’s clear that there is a momentum potentially within the talks,” Ashton said.
“But there is also clarity that there is the need to extend the moratorium on settlements, in order that the talks can continue,” Ashton said.
The quartet meeting “will be the chance to review where we’ve got to, to look at how we can support the process going forward,” Ashton said.
“For the EU that’s about helping the Palestinian Authority to continue to build, to put in place the instruments” of a Palestinian state, she said.
During a visit last week to Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as to Arab mediators Egypt and Jordan, Clinton said it made sense for Israel to extend the moratorium.
But she also left open the possibility that Israel and the Palestinians could agree to something short of a full extension of the moratorium that would allow the talks to move forward.
In Washington, the White House said Monday that US President Barack Obama has no current plans for peace talks with Netanyahu and Abbas in New York this week.
There had been some expectations that the action in the direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would shift here as the end of an Israeli settlement moratorium looms.
Netanyahu’s office has said he has no plans to head to the United States this week, but Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are already in the country.
Clinton, who launched the first direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 20 months in Washington on September 2, met Barak late Monday but no details emerged.
The deadline for the end of Israel’s freeze on settlement construction is widely accepted as September 26, exactly 10 months and a day after the original cabinet decision.
But the Israeli military order regarding the moratorium states that it will only close at midnight on September 30.