EU asks Israel, Palestinians to meet soon


The European Union said on Sunday it plans to invite Israeli and Palestinian representatives to meet “in the coming days” to discuss resuming peace negotiations. But it was not immediately clear whether such an invitation could resolve a year-long impasse in diplomacy, as spokesmen for both Israel and the Palestinians responded by restating long-held positions already blamed for perpetuating the stalemate.

The announcement by Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, was made after a meeting of the Middle East Quartet — the EU, the United States, Russia and the United Nations.

The Quartet discussed what to do next to encourage the two sides to resume “substantive” negotiations as soon as possible. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded that Israel halt all settlement building in the occupied West Bank before Palestinians will restart talks.

Israel has made clear it is not ready to suspend settlement expansion beyond a 10-month hiatus it implemented a year ago, an issue over which U.S.-sponsored negotiations between the sides have remained frozen since September 2010.

Last month, Abbas formally asked the United Nations to recognise a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a move opposed by Israel and the United States. They say only a negotiated peace can end the Middle East conflict and create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In response to Ashton’s statement, Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Abbas, said that if Israel “recognises the 1967 borders and freezes settlements, we are ready to go immediately” to talks the EU seeks to convene.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli official contacted by Reuters would not comment on the planned invitation, but suggested Israel would be ready to attend if no conditions were attached.

Israel has “repeatedly expressed its willingness to start direct peace talks with the Palestinians face to face without any preconditions whatsoever,” the official said. He added: “We hope the Palestinians will be ready, too.”