Ashton to call Abbas, Netanyahu in peace talks bid

LUXEMBOURG (AFP) — EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she will call President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later Monday to try to set a date for a restart of stalled peace talks.

Speaking at the close of talks between European Union foreign ministers, Ashton said she would call “to invite them to meet in the coming days.”

Ashton spoke a day after chairing a meeting in Brussels of envoys of the so-called Quartet of Middle East peace-brokers — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States.

On Sunday she issued a statement saying “we discussed what to do next to encourage our Israeli and Palestinian partners to resume substantive negotiations as soon as possible.”

The Quartet tried unsuccessfully to kick start talks between the two sides at a meeting in New York in September.

During talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on September 23, the Quartet powers called for the PLO and Israel to resume direct peace talks within a month and commit to seeking a deal by the end of 2012.

Israel subsequently called for an immediate return to peace talks under the framework of the Quartet proposal — a statement welcomed by the United States.

But Israel said the plan included no preconditions — an interpretation the PLO quickly rejected.

Abbas is demanding Israel halt building illegal Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

Asked at a Luxembourg news conference whether the Quartet had come up with any fresh ideas to bring the two sides to the negotiating table, Ashton said “There is no new magic formula”.

The issues were known, she added, but “the question is the political will to address them.”

“The politics suggest the timing should be now.”

( / 10.10.2011)

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