Mixed response from Palestinians on Quartet peace proposal
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Palestinians were cautious in their response to proposals for renewed peace talks with Israel Thursday, nearly a week after international mediators known as the Quartet called for the two sides to meet within a month.
A proposal for new peace talks announced by the international peacemaking Quartet last week contains "encouraging elements," a senior Palestinian official said on Thursday.
Speaking after a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee, PLO secretary general Yasser Abed Rabbo (pictured) said the proposal contained positive language.
"The Quartet statement contains encouraging elements and we call on Israel to announce its commitment to the principles and points of reference it identifies," he told reporters.
He said the Palestinians interpreted the language of the Quartet's call for new talks, which referenced the peace plan known as the Road Map, as a demand for Israel to halt construction of settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
"We consider the Quartet's reference to the obligations of the Palestinian and Israeli sides under the Road Map and the call to avoid provocative acts as a clear call for a definitive halt to settlement activity in all its forms, which is an encouraging sign," he said.
However, in an interview with FRANCE24’s Annette Young, Chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, agreed that the Quartet’s attempt to restart peace talks could be torpedoed by Israel’s decision to build 1,100 new homes in the settlement of Gilo in East Jerusalem.
“Mr Netanyahu’s decision to respond to the Quartet’s statement by authorising 1,100 housing units is 1,100 no’s to resuming negotiations and he's deliberately attempting to undermine any effort in reviving the peace negotiations and the peace process,” Mr Erekat said.
While refusing to say if this latest announcement meant the Quartet’s proposal was now “dead in the water,” he stressed the Israeli decision had undermined any such attempt to get both sides talking again.
The Quartet, composed of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia, announced their bid to renew peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians on Friday.
It came shortly after the Palestinians submitted their bid to join the United Nations as a member state.
The proposal calls for talks to begin within a month, for both sides to produce concrete ideas on security and borders within three months, and for a final deal to be reached before the end of 2012.
It says talks should be based on previous Security Council resolutions, the Road Map and the Arab peace initiative, and a speech given by US President Barack Obama in May.
Obama's speech called for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to use the lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War as a basis for deciding future borders.
Abed Rabbo praised the Quartet for laying out the timetable and referencing both previous peace proposals and Obama's speech, but he stopped short of saying the Palestinians had explicitly accepted the call for new negotiations.
And he reiterated that the Palestinians will not hold peace talks unless Israel halts settlement construction and agrees to a clear framework for the negotiations.
So far, the Quartet's proposal has been cautiously received, with the Palestinians repeating calls for a settlement freeze and clear parameters and Israel saying only that it is studying the issue.
Abed Rabbo's comments suggested the Palestinians plan to keep their position ambiguous for now, as Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas consults officials in Ramallah and seeks opinions from the Arab world.
In the meantime, the Palestinians are also trying to boost support for their historic bid to win recognition as a state member of the United Nations.
Earlier on Thursday, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki said eight members of the Security Council had pledged to approve the bid, one shy of the nine votes needed to advance it to the General Assembly.
Even if the nine votes are secured, the United States has pledged to veto the request, but the Palestinians hope to secure a diplomatic victory by winning a majority in the council.
The Palestinians are planning a diplomatic offensive, reaching out to council members Bosnia, Portugal and Colombia, which are currently undecided on the vote or have suggested they will abstain, Malki said.