Jordan and the Quartet on the Mideast are working to bring Israel and Palestinian back to the negotiations table, sources indicated on Sunday, ahead of a January 26 Quartet deadline for the resumption of direct negotiations.
Officials are ostensibly attempting to convene a meeting this week between top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's personal emissary Yitzhak Molcho, in which the agenda for future direct talks will be determined.
According to a Quartet document formulated in September, an agenda-setting meeting between Erekat and Molcho was supposed to take place over two months ago, with the Quartet's January 26 deadline for the resumption of talks edging ever nearer.
Last week, a top Israeli official said that the Palestinian leadership submitted a proposal to renew peace talks with Israel that drops their long-standing demand that Israel ceases all West Bank settlement construction.
The Palestinian proposal was reputedly the result of heavy pressure applied by Quartet members – the United States, the European Union, Russian, and the United Nations – on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to renew talks before the Quartet deadline.
According to officials with knowledge of the proposal, the Palestinian Authority informed the Quartet two weeks ago that it would renege on its demand for a settlement freeze if Israel releases 100 prisoners as a show of good will.
The prisoners in question are reportedly all veteran inmates, incarcerated in Israeli prisons since before the Oslo accords.
The Israeli official indicated that Israel rejects the Palestinian offer for two reasons: 1) That it replaces one precondition with another, and 2) since officials say the Palestinian proposal is too vague and did not make it clear whether the prisoners' release will lead to full talks that would include meetings between Netanyahu and Abbas or to preliminary talks only.
Quartet officials – especially EU – made it clear to the Palestinians that they would bear equal responsibility in the event that the two sides would not resume talks by late January.
One Israeli official indicated that, in the current situation, January 26 has become the "new September" – alluding to the PA's September submitting of their UN statehood bid – adding that everyone was waiting to see what Abbas' next move will be.
"There's real concern in the Quartet that after that date Abbas will return to UN initiatives," the Israeli official said, adding that, at the same time, the Palestinian president will have to decide whether or not to proceed with the formation of a unity cabinet with Hamas.
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