Quartet initiative failed, says French minister

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France's foreign minister said Saturday that an initiative of the international Quartet on Israeli-Palestinian peace had failed and urged the resumption of negotiations.

"The initiative of the Quartet" of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia, which announced a bid Friday to renew peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, "did not succeed," minister Alain Juppe said at a press conference with his Italian counterpart Franco Frattini.

"We think that the status quo is dangerous for everybody and that it is necessary to return to the negotiating table," he said.

Frattini, for his part, said the European Union should "continue to push the two parties to urgently restart negotiations."

The Quartet's proposal calls for talks to begin within a month, for both sides to produce concrete ideas on security and borders within three months and for a final deal to be reached before the end of 2012.

It came shortly after the Palestinians submitted their bid to join the United Nations as a member state.

Frattini said a failure of the UN bid could cause "a fracture between the West and the Arab world... or even worse, may provoke a division within the European Union".

Both ministers criticised the green light given by Israel Thursday for the construction of 1,100 new homes in Gilo in annexed east Jerusalem, which Frattini said "does not assist the peace process."

Juppe said the decision "gives the Palestinians a pretext or reason to refuse to return to the negotiating table".

Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath, meanwhile, called for the Quartet to make an explicit reference to a settlement freeze and demanded a public commitment from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The Quartet must clearly now, after Mr Netanyahu's announcement of the 1,100 units, say what it understands the terms of reference to be, and having done that, we want Mr Netanyahu to say he accepts," he said.

"We are not going back to negotiations unless there is a total stop to settlements," Shaath told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

He also renewed Palestinian charges of pro-Israeli bias against the Quartet's envoy, former British prime minister Tony Blair.

"His major worry is not to anger the Israelis, and therefore he ended just selling their programmes, their projects, and if he does that his usefulness would be extremely limited, to us," Shaath said.

"We have not as yet submitted any official request to take him away. We'd rather discuss this with the Quartet whenever we have a chance to meet the Quartet," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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