(Updates with Israeli comment in second, fifth paragraphs.)
Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Palestinians met with international mediators and said they would only participate in new Middle East peace talks if Israel freezes settlement construction.
Palestinian negotiators Saeb Erakat and Mohammad Shtayyeh held two hours of talks at the United Nations offices in Jerusalem with envoy Tony Blair and other members of the so- called Middle East Quartet, which is comprised of the UN, the U.S., the European Union and Russia. The team later met with Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, who reported no progress.
“We explained to the Quartet that we are prepared to sit at the negotiating table as soon as the Israeli government freezes all settlement construction and accepts clear terms of reference, specifically the 1967 borders,” Erakat said by phone after the meeting. “Anything short of that will simply put us back on the failed track that we have been on for the last 20 years.”
The Quartet announced a plan to revive talks in September, shortly after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the UN to grant the Palestinians full membership, a step Israel and the U.S. oppose. Peace talks broke down last year after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to renew a freeze on West Bank settlement construction. Abbas says the suspension of building, which had lasted 10 months, is a condition for further talks.
Molcho also met with the Quartet representatives for about two hours, discussing whether it was possible to convene new talks “without preconditions,” the prime minister’s office said in a text message. Both the Israelis and Palestinians said they were planning to meet again with the mediators.
Call for Solution
The Quartet proposal calls on Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks with an aim of reaching a comprehensive solution to the conflict by the end of 2012. While it doesn’t set specific conditions for the negotiations, it calls on both sides to “refrain from provocative actions.”
Erakat said he expects to hold another meeting with the Quartet representatives after they talk with Israeli officials.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Israel Radio today that Abbas is “the biggest obstacle to peace” and that his resignation “would be a blessing.”
Liberman, whose Yisrael Beitenu party is the second-biggest faction in the Likud-led ruling coalition, said Oct. 24 he wouldn’t agree to any halt to settlement construction. He has expressed greater skepticism than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toward the possibility of reaching a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians, last year calling it “an unattainable goal.”
--With assistance from Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv. Editors: Heather Langan, Eddie Buckle, Terry Atlas
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