Leaders of the so-called quartet of Middle East peace mediators lined up against a lush backdrop in this Red Sea resort on Sunday and reaffirmed their backing for the continuation of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts toward a two-state solution while giving little away about what, if anything, a year of political negotiations has achieved, iht reported.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister of Israel and leader of its negotiating team, met here and briefed the representatives of the quartet - the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia - on the negotiations.
Reading a statement on behalf of the quartet at a hotel on the Sinai coast, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, said that "without minimizing the gaps and obstacles that remain," the parties to the negotiation "shared their assessment that the present negotiations are substantial and promising" and that they have put in place a "solid negotiating structure for continued progress in the future."
The quartet again floated the idea of an international conference in Moscow to promote Middle East peace, saying that "the spring of 2009 could be an appropriate time" for such a meeting - the same language it used in a quartet statement delivered in New York in September.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said here that such a conference would be devoted primarily to the direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, in the hope that there would be some results and a conclusion by then, and would also deal with the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.
Gil Messing, a spokesman for Livni, said Israel would have "no problem" with such a meeting so long as the agenda was coordinated between the sides in advance.
But Israeli officials have made it known that they are not eager for a Moscow meeting, seeking to avoid international pressure and deadlines, and there are doubts it will actually take place. Nobody in Jerusalem is buying their tickets just yet.
Nevertheless, all sides here expressed their desire to keep up the momentum of the process that started at an American-sponsored peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, last year, in the hope that it would survive the political transition in the United States and a possible change in government in Israel, where elections are scheduled for Feb. 10.
Abbas said that both he and the Israelis would continue to meet until the Israeli elections were over and the new American administration was in office, and that the joint technical committees would continue with their work.
Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and the quartet's special envoy, said the "single most important thing is that the new administration in the United States grips this issue from Day One."
But the year of intensive negotiations ended with no document and without new deadlines, now that the Bush administration has conceded that the original goal of an agreement by the end of the year is unlikely to be met.
It also ended short on details. The quartet representatives - who also included Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana; the European external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner; and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France - pledged to respect the "bilateral and confidential nature" of the negotiations, as well as the Israeli and Palestinian partners' principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, precluding any partial agreement.
Livni said that she was aware that the need for discretion could sometimes lead to "mistrust" and "cynicism" but that it was necessary to conduct the negotiations in the right way.
The quartet also stated that in the absence of a joint request by the parties, "third parties should not intervene in the bilateral negotiations."
Unable to detail any actual progress in the talks, the sides have instead been focusing on highlighting what they call changing realities in the West Bank, where Palestinian security forces have started to exert more control.
Rice and others have recently been emphasizing that Annapolis is an "integrated process" that includes elements of Palestinian state building on the ground, and have been presenting at least that aspect as a success.
Abbas has also been trying to convince skeptical Palestinians and others that the process has not been in vain, even if it has not reached a conclusion yet.
At a news conference with Rice in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Friday, Abbas cited the Paris donors' conference last December as one example of the many benefits of the Annapolis talks. There, the international community pledged more than $7 billion in aid to the Palestinian Authority over three years.
"Many of them fulfilled their obligations and commitments," Abbas said.
In Sharm el Sheik, the quartet renewed its call on relevant states and international organizations to continue their support and to assist in the development of the Palestinian economy.