WASHINGTON, (AFP) — Envoys from the Middle East diplomatic Quartet meet on Monday in Washington in one of the final attempts to avoid a major confrontation at the United Nations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The senior diplomats — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov — will “compare notes about where we are and plot a course forward” on the peace process, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Friday.
The bar is set low in terms of objectives, which explains why the United States hesitated at length before accepting to hold the meeting, arguing the conditions for success were simply not there. But a complete lack of diplomatic activity also seemed impossible.
Peace talks ground to a halt in September 2010 when Israel failed to renew a partial freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.
Since then, the Palestinians have refused to return to talks as long as Israel builds on land they want for a future state.
They are planning to seek recognition of their state within the 1967 lines that preceded the Six-Day War when the UN General Assembly meets in September, despite the opposition of both Israel and the United States.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has vowed to pursue the unilateral bid for recognition barring any prospects of a renewal of negotiations with Israel.
But negotiator Mohammed Shtayeh noted the Palestinians may take their bid for statehood to the UN General Assembly rather than the Security Council, where a US veto is likely, with plans to submit the request to Ban later this month.
Some Security Council members, like France, have indicated they might recognize an independent Palestinian state if peace talks are not back on track by September.
But other countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, are opposed to any unilateral steps and accept the Israeli position that any progress must be made through negotiations.
“We are facing concerns about September,” Nuland conceded. “So it makes sense before many people go off on holiday for the Quartet to sit down, talk about the diplomacy that all of us have been having with the parties and see what we can do to work together to try to push them back to the table.”
Lavrov said he hoped the meeting would define the parameters of a solution, while Ashton is hoping for a declaration to help the Israelis and Palestinians reduce the gap between their positions.
Quartet members are unanimous in their support of the position taken by US President Barack Obama, who urged the two parties to base the borders of their two countries on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps.
But Israel has lashed back, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling those lines “indefensible” and insisting there would not be a peace agreement without the Palestinians first recognizing Israel as the “Jewish state” and thus as the homeland of the Jewish people alone.
Israel also wants to keep sovereignty over east Jerusalem, annexed after its occupation, as well as large swaths of settlements in the West Bank and a long-term military presence in the Palestinian section of the Jordan Valley.
All of these demands have been rejected by the Palestinian side, which beyond using the 1967 borders as a basis for the negotiations, are also demanding a freeze on settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.