The Mideast Quartet seeking a peace settlement in the Middle East has called for talks among the parties for October 23 in Jordan, a U.S. official said Tuesday.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Quartet met at the envoy level on Sunday and called for the talks “and we are very hopeful that both parties will take up that offer.”
The new initiative comes with the Palestinians pressing for U.N. recognition of statehood, which is opposed by Israel and the United States in the absence of a peace settlement.
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 U.N. General Assembly on September 23, the Quartet powers called for the Palestinians 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 the Jewish state said the plan included no preconditions -- an interpretation the Palestinians quickly rejected.
The Palestinians are demanding Israel halt settlements on land where they want to build a future state.
However Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday the establishment of a new committee charged with finding ways to legalize settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land, in a move likely to anger the Palestinians.
A statement from the premier’s office said he had “decided to form a committee to examine policy tools and principles of action, relating to construction with unregulated status in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
“The committee will formulate recommendations for action on issues such as those that arise in various petitions,” the statement said.
The decision to set up a task force was taken after heavy pressure from the settler lobby and right-wing activists following the demolition in early September of three structures in the Migron outpost near Ramallah.
Further demolitions in another four outposts are expected to take place by the year’s end.
At a meeting of ministers from Netanyahu’s Likud party on Sunday, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat said the imminent demolition of some 160 settler homes was “not reasonable,” and called for a team to “examine the issue and offer solutions,” her office said.
“Our job is not to be bulldozers and demolish,” Livnat told the meeting.
Following her request, Netanyahu ordered cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser to deal with the issue, it said.
The decision to demolish Migron and other outposts built on private Palestinian land was taken in February when Netanyahu and three other ministers met Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.
At the meeting, they agreed to raze a number of outposts built on private land while at the same time working to retroactively legalize any illegal construction in both settlements and outposts built on state land.
The issue of construction on private Palestinian land has been the subject of lengthy court battles, one of which saw the Supreme Court order the government in August to raze Migron by the end of March 2012.
Hagit Ofran, who works with the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, said 70 outposts were built either partly or completely on private Palestinian land.
Ofran said she was “surprised” by the decision to set up a task force, which was most probably a move to “buy time” and stave off the upcoming round of outpost demolitions.
Israel considers settlement outposts built in the West Bank without government approval to be illegal, and often sends security personnel to demolish them. They usually consist of little more than a few trailers.
The international community considers all settlements built in the occupied West Bank, including annexed Arab east Jerusalem, to be illegal.