International efforts to get Palestinians and Israelis back to talks in the next four weeks will be a test of the “sincerity” of the foes, according to Middle East envoy Tony Blair.
And the ambitious target set by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations to restart direct negotiations could become a pressing new deadline, diplomats say.
The U.N. Security Council will start talks Monday on the historic application made by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas for full state membership of the United Nations.
The United States has said it will veto any Palestinian resolution, but a vote is still expected to take about four weeks, diplomats said.
Within hours of Abbas’s dramatic presentation to the U.N. General Assembly, the diplomatic Quartet agreed a statement that set out a negotiation timeline, starting with a one-month deadline for new talks.
The Quartet also said they expect concrete proposals from the two sides within three months, substantial progress in six months and a final accord by the end of 2012.
“The four weeks and the three months are two very precise timelines that give everybody a chance to test the sincerity of the parties,” Blair told AFP in an interview.
While saying he understands Palestinian frustration at the lack of progress on a state, the former British prime minister has backed the United States, Israel, the European powers and U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon in insisting that only Palestinian-Israeli talks can produce a final accord.
“The Quartet is now charged with taking this forward,” Blair added. “What we will be trying to do is to set the basis to talk, to prepare that first meeting so it goes well.”
The discussions at the Security Council on Palestinian membership will be “intricately influenced” by efforts to revive the talks stalled for the past year, Blair said.
“If people don’t engage in the process then people are going to say ‘well we are being asked to substitute the U.N. for negotiation and that is not sensible’.”
Blair considers this Quartet mission the toughest he has ever undertaken.
“The levels of distrust are so deep and because in each side’s politics there are hugely complicating factors which constrain the leaders,” he said.
Political pressures within the Quartet have also influenced the group’s work. The United States is Israel’s closest ally. Russia is close to the Palestinians.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr criticized the Quartet statement on Saturday, saying that it had failed “to come up with a balanced vision” of a final settlement.
The Security Council talks have already been overshadowed by the U.S. veto threat. The United States hopes to convince five other members of the 15-nation council to oppose or abstain so the resolution fails and an embarrassing veto is not necessary.
But the U.N. secretary general has already told members that the Palestinians technically qualify for membership and the council must still refer the bid to a committee that will make a recommendation.
With little hope seen for the Palestinian bid at the Security Council, many countries are already weighing up how to vote in any follow-up move to the U.N. General Assembly to become a non-member observer state.
“The way that the Quartet efforts go, the conduct of the Security Council vote and the wording of the resolution to the General Assembly could all swing votes,” said one U.N. council diplomat, on condition of anonymity.
But leading countries such as Spain are already declaring that they would like to back the Palestinians at the General Assembly.
“The year in which the Arab Spring changed the realities in the Arab world, and indeed in the world at large, the just, legitimate and longstanding aspiration of the Palestinians to live in their own state, free from occupation and its accompanying suffering, deserves a clear response from the international community, which cannot be postponed any longer,” Spain’s Foreign Minister Trinidad Jiminez Garcia-Herrera said at the U.N. assembly on Saturday.