Quartet envoys hold separate meetings with Israelis, Palestinians

No great expectations

JERUSALEM - Envoys from the international peacemaking Quartet were to hold separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinians officials on Monday in a bid to kickstart long-stalled peace talks.
But there were no expectations for a breakthrough, with the Palestinians repeating ahead of the meeting that they would not return to talks without an end to Jewish settlement building, a condition Israel has rejected.
"So long as Israel continues to violate previous agreements, including its obligations to freeze settlements and stop attacks against our people, resuming negotiations would be meaningless," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said in a statement.
Talks between the two sides have been on hold for over a year, grinding to a halt shortly after they began in September 2010 over the issue of settlement construction.
The Palestinians say they will not hold negotiations while Israel builds on land it wants for a future state.
Israel has so far refused to renew a partial 10-month settlement freeze, which expired last year and says it will only talk if there are no pre-conditions.
The Quartet, composed of the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia, is trying to bring the two sides back to talks under a proposal laid out in September shortly after the Palestinians submitted a request for full UN state membership.
The proposal sought the resumption of talks within a month, with the goal of an agreement within a year, but there has been no sign of progress so far.
Quartet envoys have already held one round of separate meetings with the two sides, and Washington's envoy David Hale held talks on Sunday night with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas ahead of Monday's discussions.
"Hale offered president Abbas direct negotiations with Israel with the presence of the Quartet, but president Abbas told him that he was willing on the condition that Israel halt settlement activity... and agree to the principle of a two-state solution on the 1967 borders," Erakat said on Sunday night.
The Palestinians say without such guarantees from Israel, the negotiations will simply allow Israel to continue settlement construction and that talks without a clear framework will not result in a final agreement.