Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to call on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to upgrade Middle East peace negotiations to direct talks. The Palestinians, however, wasted little time in spurning Netanyahu's invitation, insisting Israel freeze settlement construction first.
Abbas' spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said on Thursday that Abbas is ready for talks only if Israel halts settlement construction and accepts its 1967 boundaries as the basis for negotiations. Otherwise, he says, any nnegotiations will "waste time."
Netanyahu's call to Abbas to join him in direct negotiations coincided with a positive response from the Prime Minister's Office to the Middle East Quartet's statement earlier Wednesday, which called for a return to direct talks without preconditions.
"Israel welcomes the Quartet statement that calls for the continuation of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians without preconditions. At his meeting next week with a Palestinian delegation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will propose raising the level of the talks and to hold them directly with Mahmoud Abbas," the statement read.
According to the PMO statement, Netanyahu was preparing to send a letter to Abbas, via his personal envoy Yitzhak Molcho, which outlines Israel's position regarding a future agreement with the Palestinians.
The Middle East Quartet met Wednesday night in Washington in another attempt to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. However, beyond agreeing on the outline created last September, the members of the forum – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, Quartet representative Tony Blair and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh – did not succeed in finding a formula for renewing negotiations.
At the end of their meeting, a Quartet representative released the folllowing statement: "The Quartet considers that the situation in and around Gaza remains fragile and unsustainable as long as the West Bank and Gaza are not reunited under the legitimate Palestinian Authority adhering to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) commitments." The Quartet also condemned rocket attacks from Gaza and stressed the need for calm and security for Israelis and Palestinians.
The statement called on both leaders to adhere to the road map for peace that the Quartet presented last September, and to refrain from actions that undermine trust. It urged them to focus on "positive efforts that can strengthen and improve the climate for a resumption of direct negotiations."