Israel denounces Abbas as ‘obstacle to peace’ ahead of Quartet talks
JERUSALEM - Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday denounced Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas as the "greatest obstacle to peace" and said his resignation would be a "blessing."
It was the second time in two days that the ultra-nationalist minister has attacked Abbas, with Wednesday's tirade coming just hours before envoys from the Quartet were to hold separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials in a bid to revive peace talks.
"Abu Mazen's resignation would be a blessing because he represents the greatest obstacle to peace," Lieberman told Israel's army radio, using Abbas's nom-de-guerre.
"He has decided to sacrifice the interests of the Palestinians for his own benefit, to defend his place in history," said Lieberman, referring to Abbas's attempts to secure UN membership for the state of Palestine.
But Lieberman said Abbas was not a viable partner for peace and was instead working to undermine Israel internationally.
"Abu Mazen is not reliable, he is not a man of peace, he is working against Israel on the international stage," Lieberman said, accusing him of pushing "to try Israeli officials before international courts."
On Monday, Lieberman said it would be "better" for Israel if Abbas was replaced, in remarks denounced by the European Union as "not helpful" and slammed by a spokesman for UN Middle East envoy Richard Serry as "inflammatory."
Envoys of the Middle East Quartet were on Wednesday holding talks with Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in a bid to find a way to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.
But the chances of a breakthrough in the deadlock which has gripped the negotiations for more than a year looked extremely remote with both sides taking very different positions on the conditions for restarting talks.
Wednesday's talks at Government House, the UN headquarters in annexed east Jerusalem, is the latest in a series of international initiatives aimed at resuscitating direct negotiations which broke down in autumn 2010.
Envoys from the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States met Quartet envoy Tony Blair before holding talks with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, a diplomatic source said.
They were then to sit down for discussions with Israel's chief negotiator Yitzhak Molho.
"The whole aim of this is to bring them back to negotiations," the source said, on condition of anonymity.
"They're trying to do it back-to-back at this stage to get them back to negotiations because that's probably the only way it's going to happen."
It will be the first time the Quartet envoys have met the two sides since Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas submitted a request for UN state membership on September 23 that was sharply condemned by both Israel and Washington.
Just hours later, the Quartet issued a loosely-worded statement proposing that Israel and the Palestinians resume direct peace talks within a month and make a commitment to securing a deal by the end of 2012.
But October 23 came and went with no sign that the parties were any closer to resuming talks, with both sides holding a different interpretation of the initiative.
Israel says it accepts the Quartet's proposal for an immediate resumption of talks as long as there are no "preconditions" but the Palestinians say they won't talk until Israel freezes settlement -- a demand they say is written into the proposal.
Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said he was not expecting anything new from the talks given the Quartet's lack of a "clear vision."
"I do not expect anything and I cannot see that the Quartet, specifically the United States, has a clear vision," he told the Voice of Palestine radio. "We are not going to return to futile negotiations."
The Palestinians, he said, would sit down with the Quartet envoys and reiterate their well-known position -- no talks without a halt to settlement activity and acceptance of the pre-1967 lines as the basis for negotiations.
"This is our stance that has not changed and will never be changed."
The Quartet's proposal of September 23 was issued with the aim of heading off a diplomatic showdown over the UN membership bid, which is set to be put to a vote in the UN Security Council in coming weeks.
Washington and Israel say a Palestinian state can emerge only as the result of a negotiated settlement between the parties, and not through a UN resolution. But Abbas says the bid can run concurrently with peace talks.
The United States has vowed to veto the request in a move many fear could spark an anti-US backlash in the Middle East.