Israel called Sunday for an immediate return to peace talks under the framework of a Quartet proposal, but it said the plan included no preconditions, an interpretation the Palestinians quickly rejected.
Israel’s apparent acceptance of the peace proposal from the international Quartet, and the Palestinian response, illustrated the gulf between the way each side has interpreted the loosely-worded proposal for new negotiations.
A statement issued by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel “welcomes the Quartet’s call for direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions.”
“While Israel has some concerns, it will raise them at the appropriate time. Israel calls on the Palestinian Authority to do the same and to enter into direct negotiations without delay,” it added.
But the Palestinians quickly retorted that Israel could not say it had accepted the Quartet statement without announcing a halt to Israeli settlement construction and a willingness to use the lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War as a basis for negotiations on future borders.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, speaking to AFP from Cairo, said the statement from Netanyahu’s office was “an exercise in deceiving the international community.”
“If he accepts the Quartet statement then he must announce a halt to settlement activity, including natural growth, and accept the principle of the 1967 borders because this is what was clearly demanded by the Quartet statement.”
The proposal announced by the Quartet on September 23 was loosely-worded, calling for talks to resume within a month with the goal of reaching a deal before the end of 2012.
It came shortly after the Palestinians submitted their historic bid to become a full state member of the United Nations.
It suggested no explicit preconditions or parameters for the talks, but did make reference to a string of previous peace proposals, speeches and United Nations resolutions.
With ample scope for interpretation, Israel and the Palestinians have taken virtually opposing positions on what the Quartet meant.
Israel made clear in the Sunday statement that it saw the grouping as calling for negotiations without preconditions.
But the Palestinians, who insist that they will not join negotiations without a settlement freeze and clear parameters for the talks, say they see the Quartet call as supporting their preconditions.
Among the documents referenced by the Quartet is the 2003 “Road Map,” which called for the cessation of violence and a halt to Israeli settlement construction.
The Palestinians say the reference is a clear sign that the Quartet expects Israel to halt Jewish construction in the occupied West Bank, including east Jerusalem, for talks to begin.
And they note that the grouping also referenced a May speech by Obama, which called for the pre-1967 lines to form the basis for negotiations on borders.
The reference to the speech, the Palestinians say, shows the Quartet also backs their call for clear parameters for peace talks.
“Netanyahu will not convince anyone unless he announces his commitment to implementing the Israel’s commitments under the Road Map and the Quartet statement,” Erakat said Sunday.