A U.S. official said Friday that the proposal by the "Quartet" of Middle East mediators - according to which Israel and the Palestinians should meet within one month to agree an agenda for new peace talks with a goal of a deal by the end of 2012 – was "realistic and serious."
In a briefing to reporters, the official said the proposal provides "a credible, serious alternative path and we believe that both sides, if they’re true to their words, will find a way to respond favorably to this." He added that "the idea of offering this timeline gives the parties a sense that this is not open-ended, that there are real goals and that there’s a serious process underway".
In a statement on Friday, the Quartet - the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia -- said it wanted to see comprehensive proposals within three months on territory and security, and substantial progress within six months.
The statement followed a day of high-stakes diplomacy over the Middle East which saw Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submit a formal application to the UN Security Council for recognition of a Palestinian state.
Commenting on the Palestinian President's letter application, the U.S. official said the Americans "had offered a lot of ideas of how we could proceed," adding that "frankly, the Israelis have responded quite flexibly," while discussions with the Palestinians "have also been very constructive."
The Quartet's statement, issued after a meeting between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, also called on parties to refrain from "provocative actions."
The brief statement represents a much more limited attempt to restart peace talks than Quartet envoys had once envisioned, and made no proposals to bridge core issues dividing the two sides such as borders, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the future of Jewish settlements.
"I think you should view the Quartet statement as sort of looking forward from this point on," the official said. "How do you get a negotiation going? By giving a timeline. How do you do that? You use the remarks of the (U.S.) President, the ideas the President laid out in May, the formulas that he very carefully balanced and constructed. The Quartet has endorsed that and now provided a very tangible way forward for the parties to use those effectively."
According to the official, at a certain point a peace conference in Moscow is to be held, should both sides agree to follow the timeline. Yet he cautioned that Russia would only host a conference "that actually is helpful in sort of capitalizing on progress that the parties may have made… and not just because we want to have a conference".
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