Barak Ravid
March 19, 2010 - 12:00am

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded Friday to the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators' call to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, saying that peace is not something which can be created artificially and with unrealistic timetables.

"Peace will be established through actions and not by force," Lieberman told Belgium's Jewish community ahead of his scheduled talks with the ministers of several European nations.

"The Quartet is ignoring the last 16 years of Israeli attempts, and is giving the Palestinians the impression that they can achieve their demands by continuing to refuse direct negotiations under false pretexts," Lieberman said.
"The Israeli government has made many significant gestures. Now it's the Palestinian's turn to prove that they are really interested in negotiations," Lieberman added.

The Quartet, which comprises members from Russia, the United States, the UN and the European Union, called Israel and the Palestinians to renew peace negotiations in order to achieve a two-state solution within 24 months. The members met in Moscow on Friday in an effort to defuse the latest crisis in peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.

"The Quartet believes these negotiations should lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties within 24 months, that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors," said a joint statement read by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"The Quartet reiterates that Arab-Israeli peace and the establishment of a peaceful state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza is in the fundamental interest of the parties, of all states in the region, and of the international community," said the statement. "In this regard the Quartet calls on all states to support dialogues between the parties."

The mediators also called on Israel following their meeting to freeze all settlement activities and denounced its recent decision to approve construction of 1.600 new homes in East Jerusalem.

"The Quartet urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activities ... and to refrain from demolitions and evictions," according to the statement read by Ban. The statement also condemned Israel's approval of the construction in East Jerusalem.

At the start of the talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "All of us today hope to arrive at some common conclusions which will help to promote the beginning of a dialogue between the two sides."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Moscow, discussed steps to improve the outlook for Israeli-Palestinian peace by telephone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday.

Netanyahu's spokesman Nir Chefetz said the Israeli leader had proposed some "mutual confidence-building steps" that both Israel and the Palestinians could take in the West Bank. He declined to spell these out.

Clinton met her Russian counterpart Lavrov, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Quartet Representative Tony Blair over a closed dinner on Thursday evening before Friday's formal meeting.

No details of that meeting were disclosed.

"We intend to have a very broad-ranging discussion with our Quartet partners," Clinton said at a joint news conference with Lavrov on Thursday. "Our goals remain the same. It is to re-launch negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians on a path that will lead to a two-state solution."

The Quartet was formed in 2002 in Spain to assist in mediating an end to escalating violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It last met on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September.

But its results so far have been meagre, leading some analysts to dismiss it as an expensive club for diplomats.

Moscow had originally hoped to organise a full-scale international conference on the Middle East this year but the lack of progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks has forced Russia to settle instead for hosting a quartet meeting.

Biden: East Jerusalem decision designed to undermine peace process

Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has called Israel's decision to approve 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem week "provocative", adding that it was "obviously designed by some in Israel to undermine a peace process George Mitchell finally got - our negotiator - finally got back on track."

In an interview with ABC's Nightline which will air on Friday night, Biden reiterated that "Israel's security is undeniably in our interest to make sure it is absolutely secure" and Washington and Jerusalem to "get over" the recent tensions that flared in response to the announcement.

"And so the message is: We've got to get over this," Biden said. "Granted, I condemn the announcement made by that planning council. ... The irony is even that planning council acknowledging not a single new unit can be built at least for a year and maybe never will be built, it was provocative."

The Interior Ministry's decision was made public during Biden's visit to Israel last week, a move the United States termed an "insult" as it came amid U.S. efforts to see Middle East peace negotiations renewed.

In the interview, Biden denied reports that he had told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel's policy on settlements puts U.S. troops at risk.

"No, I never said that," Biden told ABC


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