Israel welcomed an initiative by the U.S. and its partners in a Middle East mediating group aimed at restarting peace negotiations and called on the Palestinians to accept the proposal.
“While Israel has some concerns, it will raise them at the appropriate time,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement e-mailed today by his office in Jerusalem. He called on the Palestinian Authority “to enter into direct negotiations without delay.”
A senior Palestinian official said the Netanyahu statement was “not enough.” Israel must freeze settlements and accept the West Bank’s pre-1967 boundaries before talks can resume, said Nabil Shaath, a senior adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The so-called Quartet, which comprises the U.S., United Nations, European Union and Russia, issued the proposal on Sept. 23 after Abbas appealed for the UN to approve a Palestinian application for full membership. Members of the group have been trying to pressure Abbas to drop the statehood initiative, which the U.S. has vowed to veto, and focus on pursuing a peace agreement with Israel.
The Quartet called for Israelis and Palestinians to agree within a month on how to resume negotiations with the goal of reaching a peace agreement by the end of 2012.
“We welcome the Israeli government’s announcement today expressing readiness to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, as called for by the Quartet,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. “The Palestinians expressed support for the Quartet approach on September 29.”
Talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down a year ago after Netanyahu refused to renew a 10-month freeze on settlement construction. Abbas has said that building in settlements has to stop before peace talks resume.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said Sept. 29 that the Quartet proposal contained “encouraging elements.”
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon today rejected Palestinian, U.S. and European criticism of plans approved last week to build at least 900 new apartments in Gilo, a portion of east Jerusalem that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
“Gilo is not a faraway settlement,” Ayalon told reporters during a tour of the area. “This is within the heart of Jerusalem. This is within a contiguous part of a growing city.”
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Sept. 27 that the approval of the new housing in Gilo was “counterproductive” to the Quartet proposal for reviving peace talks.