Ma'an News Agency
October 18, 2011 - 12:00am

Envoys of the Middle East Quartet will meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian representatives in Jerusalem on Oct. 26 as they seek a way forward on peace talks, the State Department said Monday.

"Quartet envoys will be meeting with the parties in Jerusalem on October 26 with the aim to begin preparations and develop an agenda for proceeding with the negotiations," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, adding afterwards that "separate" meetings would be held.

The Quartet -- the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia -- launched an effort on September 23 to restart suspended peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO, acting after President Mahmoud Abbas formally submitted his request to the United Nations for Palestine to be admitted as a full member.

Israelis and the PLO responded favorably, but their reactions suggested they have opposing interpretations of the initiative.

The Quartet stated last month that there would be a meeting "between the parties," meaning Israelis and Palestinians sitting down face to face to hammer out an agenda and a method of proceeding in the negotiations.

While some reporters argued that the separate talks planned for October 26 were coming up short of what the Quartet had called for, Toner grew defensive, insisting that the separate meetings next week are "in keeping with the spirit of the Quartet statement."

"We're making progress here," Toner said. "The discussions are going to focus on next steps, and we think that this is the intent of that timetable, to lay out identifiable objectives that will move this process forward."

When pressed that Quartet members had held intense talks with each of the parties in New York a month ago on the sidelines of the general assembly, and that the Jerusalem talks could be perceived as merely a replay rather than a new development in the road to peace, Toner acknowledged it was a slow process, often marked by incremental steps forward.

"We all know that we've been at this for a few years here," he said.

"We're on a path toward direct negotiations," he stressed, adding that he did not know which Israeli and Palestinian officials would be at the talks.

The two sides have argued over the last few years about Israel pressing ahead with new illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Sunday accused Israel of undermining peace efforts by deciding to build a new settlement in occupied East Jerusalem.

Two days earlier UN leader Ban Ki-moon had accused Israel of provoking the international community by approving new settlements in occupied Palestinian territories while efforts were being made to jumpstart the peace talks.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017