Quartet pushes Israel, Palestinians to stick to peace talks
AFP - 2 hours 52 minutes ago
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AFP) - - The Middle East Quartet called on Israel and the Palestinians on Sunday to press on with peace negotiations even though a year-end target date for a deal is dead in the water.
It also called for a halt to Jewish settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land, one of the thorniest issues in the peace talks, and for the dismantling of "terrorist infrastructure."
"The Quartet called for the continuing of the peace process in the framework of Annapolis," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said after a meeting of the Quartet in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
He was referring to the US city where negotiations were revived in November 2007 after a near seven-year hiatus, with both sides committing to reaching a long-elusive deal by the end of this year.
But with Israel now counting down to early elections in February and rival Palestinian groups still locked in a damaging political feud, all sides have ruled out any chance of meeting the target.
"Without minimising the gaps and obstacles that remain the representatives of the parties shared their assessment that the present negotiations are substantial and promising," the final statement said.
"The Quartet reiterated its call to the parties to fully implement their obligations under phase one of the roadmap including in relation to freezing settlement activity and dismantlement of the infrastructure of terrorism."
The Quartet -- the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States -- met to discuss progress in resolving core problems such as the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state and refugees.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said she would not sign "any agreement that does not serve Israel's interest and that is not detailed enough to be put into effect. We are not there yet and it could take time."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on her 19 trip to the region in two years and what may be her last, has tacitly admitted that a deal is unlikely by the time US President George W. Bush leaves office in January.
But she said on Sunday: "We have an international strategy now to finally establish the two-state solution which President Bush set as a goal several years ago."
Both sides, Rice said, "believe that their negotiations are producing an atmosphere of trust as well as the foundation in which to build."
In the absence of a full accord, however, Rice is pushing the two sides to define the outlines of a deal before she hands over the dossier to the administration of president-elect Barack Obama.
The Quartet has long backed a peace deal that would see the establishment of an independent Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel based on a so-called roadmap drafted in 2003.
But the peace process has been clouded by the resignation of Israel's scandal-plagued Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that led to the scheduling of snap elections for February.
It has also been complicated by the ongoing feud between the Islamist Hamas movement, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, and Abbas's Fatah party, which has held on to the West Bank.
Reconciliation talks between the rival Palestinian groups due to begin on Monday in Cairo were called off after a Hamas boycott.
Abbas adviser Nabil Shaath said in Cairo on Sunday the talks were now expected to resume within a fortnight.
"Based on available information we have from the Egyptians I expect the resumption of Palestinian talks in Cairo in 10 days, or two weeks at the most," he told reporters.
Israeli opposition leaders have said the peace process should be put on hold but Livni, who hopes to become premier, stressed that Washington should sustain the momentum.
Abbas has also called on Obama to keep the peace process a US foreign policy priority and speed up efforts to help seal an agreement.
"We know that we are unable now to reach peace but we will continue in order to reach it," he said.
Quartet envoy Tony Blair, Britain's former prime minister, echoed Abbas.
"The single most important thing for the new US administration is to press this issue from day one... knowing that for the first time we have comprehensive political negotiations through the Annapolis process," he said.
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US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice answers questions during a press conference in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Shiekh. The Middle East Quartet has called on Israel and the Palestinians to press on with peace negotiations even though a target date for a deal is dead in the water.
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