Mideast Quartet Sets Timetable for Renewed Israeli-Palestinian Talks

Timetable aims to reach peace agreement before end of 2012; brief Quartet statement makes no proposals to bridge core issues dividing Israelis and Palestinians.

The "Quartet" of Middle East mediators proposed on Friday that 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.

In a statement, 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.

The United States and Israel say a Palestinian state can only be achieved through resuming direct peace negotiations, and the United States has said it would veto any Palestinian bid that is put to a vote at the Security Council.

The Quartet, which has been working for months to try to find a formula to restart talks, said its new timetable aimed to reach a peace agreement before the end of 2012.

The 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.

The EU's Ashton, speaking to reporters as the statement was issued, said both the Israelis and the Palestinians were aware of "elements" in the new proposal, but indicated it was not certain that they would sign up for new talks.

"We believe that this would provide a good framework," she said. "We hope the parties will respond positively."

Following the quartet statement, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters at the United Nations that the United States "is very pleased that the Quartet was able to issue the statement. It represents current convictions of the international community of the ability of the sides to reach lasting peace"

"We urge both parties to take advantage of this opportunity," she added.

Quartet representative and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair added that the statement presents a clear set of steps.
"I very much hope that the parties will respond positively," Blair said, adding that "the leaders need to combine the application to the UN Security Council with prospects of negotiations."

He stressed also that "the best way to decide on issues is sitting down and debating them."

Abbas, in his speech to the UN General Assembly on Friday, underscored that continued Jewish settlement building on occupied land the Palestinians want for their future state was a major obstacle to resuming negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his speech, said the Palestinians must acknowledge that "Israel is the Jewish state" - something they have declined to do.