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Mideast 'quartet' unveils eleventh-hour plan for peace talks

The proposal by the 'quartet,' which includes the U.S., calls for Israelis and Palestinians to offer comprehensive plans within three months of resuming talks and end negotiations by the end of 2012.

September 23, 2011|By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times
  • At the United Nations General Assembly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas raises the application for recognition of Palestinian statehood.
At the United Nations General Assembly, Palestinian Authority President… (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles…)

Reporting from the United Nations — The United States and other world powers unveiled an eleventh-hour plan Friday to try to renew stalled Middle East peace talks, hours after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made an emotional plea to the United Nations Security Council to grant the statehood that his people have failed to win in 18 years of negotiations with Israel.

The skeletal proposal by the so-called diplomatic quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the U.N. — calls for Israelis and Palestinians to each offer comprehensive plans within three months of resuming talks and to finish the entire negotiation by the end of 2012.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the initiative a "concrete and detailed plan" and urged the two sides to "take advantage of the opportunity to get back to talks."

Privately, diplomats are deeply pessimistic about the prospects of a deal. The release of the proposal late Friday after a week of high drama and drawn-out diplomacy at the U.N. underscores how desperate U.S. and European officials are to draw the adversaries back to peace talks, rather than see the Palestinians rely on their sovereignty bid at the U.N.

The latest formula ignores or papers over several contentious issues that helped create the current stalemate, and it is far from clear whether it presents a fresh way forward or is just a face-saving diplomatic effort after a week of frustration.

Rather than addressing Abbas' demand that Israel halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank before any talks begin, the proposal calls on both sides to "refrain from provocative actions" during negotiations. The plan also doesn't mention Israel's demand that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish character of Israel.

The world powers' proposal was disclosed three hours after Abbas made a dramatic appeal to the U.N. General Assembly to shift one of the world's most intractable conflicts in a new direction.

Ignoring intense diplomatic pressure from his longtime Western patrons, including the Obama administration, Abbas filed an official request for Palestine to be recognized as a U.N. member nation. He then told the General Assembly that no one "with a shred of conscience can reject our application.... The time has come."

Dozens of diplomats jumped to their feet with thunderous applause, cheering when Abbas waved a copy of the application papers he had given U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon moments earlier. The Israeli delegation sat mute and uncomfortable.

Abbas said the quest for peace had been dashed "on the rocks of Israeli occupation," a charge that clearly angered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took the podium after Abbas.

Netanyahu said Israel had taken the risks for peace, and he mocked Abbas' claim that Palestinians had struggled with only their "hopes and dreams" for the last 60 years. "Hopes, dreams — and 10,000 missiles and Grad rockets supplied by Iran," Netanyahu said.

The Israeli leader ripped into the U.N. as a "theater of the absurd," making it clear that he enjoys few friends in the traditionally pro-Palestinian assembly. He said the world body had "for too long been a place of darkness for my people."

Despite their mutual denunciations, Abbas and Netanyahu insisted that they were eager to resume talks — a point U.S. officials highlighted in arguing late Friday that their new initiative could succeed.

Abbas' decision to apply for statehood marked a sharp disappointment for President Obama, who made the search for a negotiated peace a priority from his first day in office. After calling for a peace agreement leading to an independent Palestine during his U.N. speech last year, he had to explain at the same podium on Wednesday why he would veto Abbas' bid as a threat to future peace.

The veto threat undermined Obama's efforts to convince the Muslim world — including the pro-democracy activists who have challenged or overturned the established order in much of the Arab world — that America is on its side.

The Security Council is deeply split over whether to elevate the Palestinians to full membership, and lengthy deliberations are likely before any vote is scheduled.

The feelings of council members are "a question mark," a senior European official said.

India, Brazil, South Africa, Lebanon and Russia appear to support the Palestinian bid; the positions of European nations France, Britain, Germany, Portugal and Bosnia-Herzegovina are unclear.

But a diplomat involved in the talks said that even the Russians, who have backed the Palestinians, don't believe that U.N. recognition will resolve the issues that have caused so much bloodshed and bedeviled generations of diplomats. "They would like it to go away," he said.

Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. Mideast peace negotiator, said he believes that Abbas doesn't expect a quick return to the negotiating table but is hoping that, in time and with international pressure, conditions for peace may improve.

"I don't think even he knows where he's going," Miller said.

paul.richter@latimes.com

Times staff writer Christi Parsons in Washington contributed to this report.

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