International mediators will press Israel and Palestinians to table their ideas on security
arrangements and the borders for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict within three months, envoy Tony Blair said on Wednesday.
Blair said the mediators would hold separate meetings with the Israelis and Palestinians next week in Jerusalem, the latest effort to revive the peace process.
Blair is the representative for Middle East Quartet, made up of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
By arranging separate meetings, the Quartet failed to meet a goal set out in a Sept. 23 statement to bring the parties together for a "preparatory meeting" aimed at reviving the peace talks which broke down more than a year ago.
Blair said the Sept. 23 statement had also called on the parties to set out their "detailed proposals on borders and security in three months".
"If we can get the parties to agree to do this, then within three months we'll know where everyone stands on two of the central issues," Blair told Reuters.
"If we can get to a point where within three months you see what the parties' proposals are on the borders, you'd see where the gaps are. And that would be in my view a huge advance," he said.
The last round of peace talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas broke down over a year ago, just a few weeks after it started, because of a dispute over Israeli settlement expansion.
The Palestinians say Israel must halt all settlement building on land where they seek to establish their independent state before any more talks.
Abbas also wants Israel to agree to clear terms of reference which make clear its agreement in principle to the idea of a Palestinian state emerging in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu says he is ready to sit down for talks with Abbas right away but has refused to impose new restrictions on the expansion of the settlements.
Israel recently unveiled plans for new settlement building including 2,600 homes on land near East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians aim to found their capital.
"The settlement decision is a problem, I mean there's no doubt about that. The Quartet has continually made clear its concerns and disagreement with this. But I go back to one very
simple thing, which is that in the end the best way to resolve this settlement question is to resolve borders," Blair said.
Blair has faced increasingly vocal criticism from Palestinian officials who have accused him of being pro-Israeli. Some have suggested he should be replaced. Blair denied the accusation of bias.
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, criticized the Quartet on Wednesday over what he described as its weak response to the latest Israeli settlement building announcements.
"We had hoped from the Quartet to hear, at the very least, one sentence saying Israel is responsible for destroying the peace process," Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio.
"This is what we will discuss with them," he said, referring to next week's meetings.
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