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Mideast Quartet meets hoping to avoid looming crisis
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) July 11, 2011

Envoys from the Middle East Quartet gathered here Monday to urge Israelis and the Palestinians to resume peace talks aiming to avoid a major showdown at the United Nations in September.

"We thought it was a good idea for them all to touch base... to compare notes on what it's going to take to get the parties back to the table," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov were to meet for dinner at 7:00pm (2300 GMT).

Quartet envoy Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, will also participate at the dinner talks at the State Department.

A huge confrontation is looming at the UN General Assembly in September, when the Palestinians intend to press for unilateral recognition of their state despite the opposition of both Israel and the United States.

Peace talks on reaching a deal ground to a halt in September 2010 when Israel failed to renew a partial freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

Since then, the Palestinians have refused to return to talks as long as Israel builds on land they want for a future state.

Nuland said Monday's talks aimed "to speak to our shared aspiration that we will have a negotiated solution to this issue rather than unnecessary and potentially damaging action in New York in September."

Ahead of the meal, Clinton and Ashton were to hold a press conference at 3:35 pm (1935 GMT).

Quartet members unanimously support the position taken by US President Barack Obama, who in May urged the two parties to base the borders of their countries on the 1967 borders with mutually-agreed swaps.

"I took the initiative to propose a Quartet meeting in July as the best way to achieve progress," Ashton said in a statement released ahead of the meeting.

"I do not underestimate the challenge," Ashton said, adding her goal for the meeting is a statement "that will help the Israelis and Palestinians make progress and allow for a return to the negotiating table."

The bar is set low in terms of objectives, which explains why the United States hesitated before agreeing to hold the meeting, arguing the conditions for success were simply not there. But a complete lack of diplomatic activity also seemed impossible.

Some European countries like France have indicated they might recognize an independent Palestinian state based on the lines that preceded the 1967 Six Day war if peace talks are not back on track by September. Others, including Germany and the Netherlands, oppose any unilateral steps.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has vowed to pursue the unilateral bid for recognition barring any prospects of a renewal of negotiations with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the 1967 borders "indefensible," insisting there could not be a peace agreement unless the Palestinians first recognize Israel as the "Jewish state."

Israel also wants sovereignty over east Jerusalem, annexed after its occupation, as well as large swaths of settlements in the West Bank and a military presence in the Palestinian section of the Jordan Valley.

The Palestinians reject these conditions, and demand a freeze on settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

On Sunday, Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi urged the Quartet to "undertake its responsibilities seriously."

Ashrawi called on the group to commit to clear guidelines and a timeframe for any new talks, and to "effectively bring Israel to compliance, including a cessation of all settlement activities."

The Palestinians say Washington has weakened the Quartet's position on settlement construction -- which most countries consider illegal -- by failing to insist on a new moratorium.

"The Quartet must exhibit the political will to translate words into action. Until this happens there will be no change to the current status quo," Ashrawi said.

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Mideast Quartet meets to avoid looming crisis
Washington (AFP) July 8, 2011
Envoys from the Middle East diplomatic Quartet meet Monday in Washington in one of the final attempts to avoid a major confrontation at the United Nations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The senior diplomats - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov - will "compare ... read more

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