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MIDEAST: Israel, Palestinians consider Quartet plan for new talks

October 2, 2011 |  9:25 am

Israeli Cabinet officials
REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Israelis and Palestinians are struggling to respond to the latest peace initiative from the Mideast Quartet, with each side embracing the parts it liked and dismissing those it didn’t.

More than a week after the Quartet statement on reviving the peace process was issued, neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority has formally accepted or rejected it in its entirely, reflecting an apparent desire to avoid alienating the body, which is comprised of the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia.

On Sunday, Israel issued a statement saying it would embrace the Quartet’s call for direct talks with no preconditions, which mirrors the position that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held since he took office in 2009.

But Israeli officials are expressing reservations about other elements of the plan, including a time line for negotiating borders of a Palestinian state within three months and completing a deal within one year. Israelis fear that once borders are determined, Palestinians will be less willing to budge on other hot-button issues.

“If agreement is reached now on borders and territory, there is no reason for the Palestinians to compromise on issues we hold important, like refugees, Jerusalem and the holy sites,’’ Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said Sunday. “Why not do it the other way around?”

Palestinians are also walking a fine line, calling the proposal “encouraging” and saying it has “very few flaws” but stopping short of full acceptance and complaining it does not go far enough to set the ground rules for future negotiations.

On Saturday, Palestinian Authority official Nabil Shaath focused chiefly on the proposal’s call to honor past peace deals, which required Israel to halt settlement construction on land it seized during the 1967 war.

While the Quartet stopped short of making a settlement freeze a precondition for renewed talks, Shaath said Palestinians would not return to negotiations until Israel halts settlement construction and agrees to negotiate using 1967 borders as a baseline.

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-- Edmund Sanders

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks during a Cabinet meeting in September, flanked by Cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser, right, and Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom. Credit: Tara Todras-Whitehill / Pool

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