MOSCOW – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hailed “useful and productive” signs from Israel on Friday as the so-called quartet of Middle East peacemakers called on Israelis and Palestinians to resume stalled negotiations.
Diplomats said indirect peace talks would start soon. “We are all committed to the launching of proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Clinton told reporters.
Clinton declined to say what concessions, if any, were offered by Israel during a Thursday night telephone conversation she had with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But she stuck determinedly to a tone of reconciliation and progress, signaling an emergence from a chill between the U.S. and Israel over the latter’s plans to build 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem.
The United States condemned the Israeli plans, which were abruptly announced as Vice President Joe Biden recently visited Israel. The quartet, comprising the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, also objected and repeated that condemnation Friday.
“We are convinced that this was all heard in Israel and that they correctly understood,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.
After the closed-door discussions, quartet envoy Tony Blair said he expected progress in coming days.
“I hope very much that in the next few days we have a package that gives people the sense that, yes, despite all the difficulties of the past few days, it is worth having proximity talks and then those leading to negotiations,” Blair, the former British prime minister, told Reuters.
Israelis and Palestinians have not held peace talks since a massive Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip about 15 months ago killed more than 1,000 Palestinians, devastated the civilian infrastructure and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
The quartet called for the open flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and people to and from Gaza, which is plagued by severe humanitarian crisis.
The U.S. Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell, will be dispatched for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in coming days in hopes of drawing the two sides back to the table.
The first discussions would be carried out indirectly with messages passed through third parties, Lavrov said. The quartet hopes that the two sides would later proceed to direct talks.
Except in its lingering attention to the explosive question of Jerusalem, the statement issued by the quartet differed little from a statement the group put out after holding talks in September. Much of the language was repeated directly, or moderately rearranged.
The group condemned Israel for demolishing Arab buildings and evicting Palestinian residents.
In a nod to Israeli concerns, the quartet also condemned a rocket attack from Gaza that killed a Thai worker in southern Israel on Thursday, and called on the Palestinians to stop incitement of violence and strive to establish law and order.