US envoy returns to grasp the nettle of Mideast peace

JERUSALEM, Gavin Rabinowitz- Israel on Monday welcomed a return to indirect peace talks as a US Middle East envoy arrived and the Palestinians called for a meeting of the Mideast Quartet in a bid to save negotiations.
As Washington's Middle East envoy George Mitchell arrived for talks with Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, EU foreign ministers reaffirmed their commitment to two states for two peoples within the framework of a "negotiated solution."

US envoy returns to grasp the nettle of Mideast peace
Before meeting Mitchell, the Israeli premier expressed relief that the focus had been taken off Israeli settlement activity and placed firmly on the core issues -- which Washington now wants to address through indirect talks.
"The US has understood that what is important is to reach the real issues, including the core issues at the heart of the conflict between us and the Palestinians," Netanyahu said at a conference in Tel Aviv.
"When these gaps narrow, we will reach direct negotiations, with the aim of reaching a framework agreement for peace," he said.
Last week, Washington acknowledged it had failed to secure a new Israeli settlement freeze, effectively signalling the end of direct peace talks and a return to the "proximity" talks that began in May and were overseen by Mitchell.
Direct talks began on September 2, but stalled three weeks later with the end of an Israeli moratorium on settlement building. The Palestinians refused to talk while Israel continued building, but the ban was never renewed.
"We’re going to work together to establish a new path to achieve a common goal, which is to get a framework agreement for peace that will ensure both peace and security," Netanyahu told reporters before meeting Mitchell.
"We hope our Palestinian neighbours will participate with us to achieve that in the coming months," he added.
Mitchell said only: "In their direct talks, both sides decided together to pursue a framework agreement that would establish the fundamental compromises on all permanent status issues, and pave the way for a final peace treaty."
The US envoy is due to meet Abbas on Tuesday. Before his arrival, the Palestinian leadership called for an urgent meeting of the Middle East Quartet, which comprises top diplomats from the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
"The Palestinian leadership calls for a broad international effort to ensure the protection of the peace process, including an urgent meeting of the Quartet committee to lay the foundation for a renewal of the peace process," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the PLO's executive committee.
He also called for the Palestinian leadership to coordinate Arab and international efforts to get the negotiations back on track.
At the same time, Abbas called on the European Union to recognise a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in a phone call with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
"Ashton spoke today with president Abbas who called on the European Union to take a step towards recognition of the state of Palestine based on the 1967 borders," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.
"We hope that the European Union will take this step to maintain the requirements for the success of the peace process that were thwarted by Israel."
The Palestinians also sent a letter to EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, urging them to recognise a Palestinian state in order to "provide protection for the principle of two states as well as for the peace process," Erakat said.
European foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday reaffirmed a readiness to recognise a Palestinian state at an "appropriate" time, stopping short of outright recognition despite mounting pressure to break the impasse.
The EU ministers' statement expressed "regret" at Israel's rejection of a new freeze, describing settlements as "illegal" and "an obstacle to peace."
Over the past few weeks, Palestinian officials have been talking up their options if peace talks with Israel totally collapse -- one of which is seeking recognition for a unilateral declaration of statehood on the basis of the 1967 borders, including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and occupied east Jerusalem.
After meeting Mitchell on Tuesday, Abbas will travel directly to Cairo to discuss the latest developments with Arab League diplomats.

Monday, December 13th 2010
Gavin Rabinowitz

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