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Quartet urges Israeli move on settlements

June 27, 2009

By Guy Dinmore in Trieste, Italy

Published on FT.com on June 27, 2009

The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators on Friday urged Israel to make a positive move on settlements that diplomats said could pave the way for the resumption of direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and possible concessions by Arab states.

Ban Ki-Moon, UN secretary general, led talks in northern Italy on the sidelines of a meeting of G8 foreign ministers with his three other partners in the “quartet”–  the EU, US and Russia.

A final statement welcomed the commitment to a two-state solution expressed by both Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority president.

Diplomats pointed to the key section of the statement which urged Israel to “freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth“. It also urged the Palestinian Authority to “continue to make every effort to improve law and order and  to fight violent extremism”.

George Mitchell, special US envoy, told reporters there had been “intensive negotiations” with Israel in recent weeks and that differences had been tackled as “a discussion among friends”.

“We believe we are making progress in these efforts and we hope very much to conclude this phase of the discussions and be able to move into meaningful and productive negotiations in the near future,” he said.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said: “We want resumption of full-fledged negotiations.”

Mr Netanyahu has said settlements would not be expanded beyond existing boundaries but he has refused to give ground on “natural growth” — further building inside established settlements.

Ministers and envoys were to meet their Arab counterparts in Trieste on Friday night to discuss how some Arab governments might respond in a positive way should Mr Netanyahu make a concession on “natural growth”, possibly limiting further construction to buildings already started.

“We need a key to open the door for the Arabs,” one diplomat said. The Quartet statement called on Arab states to “take steps to recognize Israel’s rightful place in the region”.

G8 foreign ministers in their separate statement welcomed Russia’s plans to host an international conference on the Middle East peace process in Moscow this year.

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