The foreign ministers of the Middle East Quartet will be meeting Monday in Washington and are expected to release a statement endorsing U.S. President Barack Obama's May 19 speech on the Middle East, which called for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the borders of a future state based on pre-1967 lines with agreed-upon land swaps.
According to sources in Jerusalem, the Quartet, which consists of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, will not invite the parties to a summit meeting but will instead send a delegation to the region to determine if the will exists and the time is ripe for renewed negotiations.
On Sunday the group of eight senior Israeli cabinet members convened to discuss the anticipated announcement by the Quartet following a similar meeting on Friday. A source in Jerusalem said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet colleagues have concerns that the Quartet announcement could provide a surprise for Israel similar to Obama's May speech, the contents of which were revised less than 24 hours before it was delivered.
Monday's meeting of Quartet foreign ministers and the UN secretary general comes after the European Union exerted intense pressure for the presentation of an international peace plan on the conflict. The EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has argued such a peace proposal would constitute an alternative to the Palestinian push for recognition of an independent Palestinian state at the UN in September, and that it might convince the Palestinians to refrain from going forward with their plans.
In the past two weeks, France has put heavy pressure on Ashton and the other Quartet members for the group's statement to include an invitation to Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations based on Obama's remarks on the 1967 borders and on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
The U.S. is proposing a Quartet statement that mentions the Obama address in relatively general terms and announces that a Quartet delegation would visit the region for additional talks.
Israeli sources have said Netanyahu has been somewhat more flexible in his stance regarding the principles expressed in Obama's address, saying that he would agree to base talks on the 1967 borders with land swaps. In exchange, he is seeking Obama administration ratification of President George W. Bush's letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon regarding Jewish West Bank settlement blocs coming under Israeli sovereignty and for Palestinian refugees to be resettled in a future Palestinian state.
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