Quartet to meet separately with Israel, Palestinians on October 26
Israel and the Palestinians will return to indirect talks this month in a bid to launch a fresh round of Middle East peace negotiations, the European Union announced Monday, hours before a highly publicized prisoner swap, dpa reported.
The quartet of Middle East mediators - the EU, the United States, the United Nations and Russia - had called on September 23 for a resumption of negotiations within one month.
"The quartet envoys will be meeting with the parties in Jerusalem on October 26 to begin preparations and develop an agenda for proceeding in the negotiations," said Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU top foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton.
In Washington, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the quartet would meet separately in Jerusalem with delegations for Israel and the Palestinians: "I am clarifying now - these are going to be separate meetings."
The meetings would have "the aim to begin preparations and develop an agenda for proceeding in the negotiations," Toner said.
Toner conceded that the meetings would be three days later than called for by the quartet's September 23 timetable, as well as being only indirect talks. But the meetings are "pretty darn close" to the quartet's plans, a "stepping stone along that timetable", he said.
"What's important is that we're on a path towards direct negotiations," Toner said. "We feel that we're making progress, and that's our goal."
Issued on the day that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted a contested statehood application to the United Nations, the quartet's timetable calls for an agreement by the end of 2012.
The Middle East peace talks have stalled for a year, ever since Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a partial moratorium on Israeli construction in its West Bank settlements.
Toner did not answer questions about whether the Israeli government had changed its stance on freezing settlement construction.