The Middle East Quartet, which includes representatives from the United States, Russia, the European Union, and United Nations, has reached agreement on a statement calling for the resumption of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians within one month. Both sides would present detailed proposals within three months, and negotiations would be completed by end of 2012, according to U.N.-based sources.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced plans to hold a Quartet session this afternoon, followed by a public statement at about 3:45 p.m. by Catherine Ashton, the European Union's chief foreign affairs official. Ashton has led talks with the Palestinians and Israelis about a return to talk.
But it remains unclear whether the final statement would spell out the basis for such talks, which officials said would initially focus on borders and security. The U.N. secretary general's office, meanwhile, announced the U.N. chief had transmitted the Palestinian application for U.N. membership to the Security Council, where it faces almost certain defeat.
But Ashton and other European officials have been pressing the Palestinians to back down and not force the matter for a vote. Instead, the Europeans would support a bid by the Palestinians to secure a General Assembly decision recognizing the Palestinians as an non-member observer state, a status similar to the Vatican, but not a full-fledged member.
Update: excerpts from the Quartet statement below.
"The Quartet reiterated its urgent appeal to the parties to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions," reads the Quartet statement. "But it accepts that meeting, in itself, will not reestablish the trust necessary for such a negotiation to succeed."
The statement details a specific proposal for a timeline for direct talks, beginning with a "preparatory meeting" in the next month to "agree an agenda and method" for the talks. "At that meeting there will be a commitment by both sides that the objective of any negotiation is to reach an agreement within a timeframe agreed to by the parties but not longer than the end of 2012."
The Quartet "expects the parties to come forward with comprehensive proposals within three months on territory and security, and to have made substantial progress within six months. To that end, the Quartet will convene an international conference in Moscow, in consultation with the parties, at the appropriate time."
The Quartet "recognizes the achievements of the Palestinian Authority in preparing institutions for statehood," the statement said. It also calls on the two parties "to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are to be effective."
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.