Benjamin Netanyahu -  Emil Salman - 05092011
Benjamin Netanyahu, right, at the cabinet meeting Sunday. Photo by Emil Salman
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While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Sunday that he welcomed "the Quartet's call for direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions," the premier intends to present a list of qualifications to the Quartet's statement on a resumption of Mideast talks that in effect enfeeble that statement.

The plan, presented at UN Headquarters in New York by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, calls for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to renew direct talks within a month, to present proposals on borders and security within three months, and to reach a final agreement by the end of 2012.

Netanyahu's statement on Sunday, coming over a week after the Quartet on the Middle East published its roadmap for peace talks, was the result of two meetings between the PM and his top ministers.

The delay in Israel's response was due to ongoing talks with U.S. officials, in which Israel asked for certain clarifications and assurances regarding the Quartet's statement.

Speaking with Haaretz, one minister who participated in those meetings said that Israel's answer to newly offered roadmap for peace amounted to a "yes, but" and that Israeli officials would present several qualifications concerning points included in the plan.

One such reservation is the three-month timetable presented in the Quartet document, with Israel expected to claim that such a schedule was unrealistic.

Israel will also object to separate negotiations concerning borders and security arrangements, and is expected to insist on a parallel discussion of the Palestinians' recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinian refugees, and a Palestinian agreement to declare the conflict between the two peoples as resolved.

In addition, Netanyahu is expected to demand that the Palestinian Authority, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, freeze its bid for full UN membership in the Security Council during peace talks.

Responding to the Israeli adoption of the Quartet statement, several Palestinian officials reiterated on Sunday that the PA would not return to direct peace talks if Israel did not freeze all settlement construction and recognized the 1967 borders as the basis for a future Palestinian state.

Speaking with Palestinian news agency WAFA, Nabil Abu Rudeinah, chief aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said that Israel had to freeze settlement construction and recognize 1967 borders for talks to resume.

"[R]eturning to negotiations requires the commitment of Israel to halt settlement activities and to recognize the 1967 borders without any equivocation or any attempts to avoid the international resolutions,” Abu Rudeinah said.

"If Israel is serious, it has to commit without any reservations to the international resolutions as stated in the road map, the resolutions of the United Nations and the Arab peace initiative," he added.

Also commenting on Israel's announcement on Sunday, Palestinian official Saeb Erakat told the French AFP news agency that Netanyahu's statement was an "an exercise in deceiving the international community."

"If he accepts the Quartet statement then he must announce a halt to settlement activity, including natural growth, and accept the principle of the 1967 borders because this is what was clearly demanded by the Quartet statement."