Quartet to Meet in Brussels in Bid to Restart Israeli-Palestinian Talks

EU spokesman Michael Mann says focus of talks will be to maintain momentum in encouraging the parties to return to negotiations.

The European Union said Friday that the Middle East Quartet will meet Sunday in Brussels as part of a wider effort to restart the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

EU spokesman Michael Mann said Friday the focus would be to maintain momentum in encouraging the parties to return to negotiations.

The meeting comes amid international pressure to reach a peace deal by the end of 2011, fueled by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' request two weeks ago that the UN recognize an independent Palestinian state. The Security Council is reviewing the request.

Mediators from the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia have been meeting sporadically in a thus fruitless effort to bring the two sides together again. The Quartet had its most recent meeting on September 23 in New York.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his eight senior cabinet ministers decided Sunday to support the Quartet's plan, saying in a statement that "Israel welcomes the Quartet's call for direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions."

The statement added that Israel has a few concerns about the Quartet's plan which it will bring up during the negotiations.

"Israel calls on the Palestinian Authority to do the same and to enter into direct negotiations without delay," the statement said.

The Palestinians have also responded positively to the Quartet's plan, and a senior Palestinian official said last week that the Middle East Quartet's proposal for renewing negotiations with Israel contained some encouraging elements, after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas convened top officials to discuss the matter.

"The Quartet statement contains encouraging elements and we call on Israel to announce its commitment to the principles and points of reference it identifies," Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary general of the PLO, told reporters after the meeting.

Abed Rabbo said that despite the encouraging elements, it is not enough to resume negotiations. The Palestinians are eager to restart talks, but Israel first has to commit to all references in the Quartet statement, "especially concerning the borders of 1967 and stopping settlement activity," he said.

Mideast Quartet - AP - Sept 21, 2010