WASHINGTON – The United States and its partners in the international diplomatic “quartet” on the Middle East failed on Monday to reach agreement on how to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, dealing a blow to urgent efforts to avert a looming confrontation at the United Nations over recognizing Palestine as an independent nation.
A senior U.S. official said a Monday night meeting of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was unable to produce a unified statement on how to proceed. Such a statement had been a modest goal of the meeting.
The official said that significant gaps are still impeding progress among both the mediators and the parties themselves and that “much more work” needs to be done before the quartet can issue a call to re-launch negotiations that stalled last September. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private working dinner among the quartet principals at the State Department.
The official said talks would continue but acknowledged that the mediators could not come to consensus on how to address the gaps. The official refused to elaborate.
The quartet usually issues statements following meetings of its top officials. The fact that none was forthcoming on Monday underscored the slim chances for bringing the Israelis and Palestinians back to talks anytime soon.
The Palestinians plan to bring their bid for independence before the U.N. General Assembly in September. That move is likely to make the decades-old deadlock even more intractable.
Earlier Monday, Clinton and Ashton told reporters that the U.S. and European Union remained committed to getting the two sides back to the table. They said negotiations are the only way to resolve the conflict and Clinton noted that negotiations were what led to the creation of the world’s newest state, South Sudan, last weekend after decades of civil war.
“Sudan and South Sudan negotiated a peace agreement that led to independence,” she told reporters at a joint news conference with Ashton. “That is what we’re asking the Palestinians and the Israelis to do.”
Neither Israeli officials nor the Palestinians have shown any sign they are ready to resume direct talks.