Israel accepted on Sunday a call by the Quartet of international peace mediators to resume talks with the Palestinians, an official Israeli statement said.
“Israel welcomes the Quartet call for direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions,” the statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.
“While Israel has some concerns, it will raise them at the appropriate time. Israel calls on the Palestinian Authority to do the same and to enter into direct negotiations without delay,” said the statement, released after Netanyahu held consultations with senior cabinet ministers.
The statement was the first official reaction from the Israeli government to the call from the peacemaking Quartet on September 23 for the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The international grouping, made up of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, urged the two sides to return to talks within a month, with the goal of reaching a deal before the end of 2012.
But the call was loosely worded, imposing no explicit preconditions or parameters for the talks and making reference to a string of previous peace proposals, speeches and United Nations resolutions.
With ample scope for interpretation, Israel and the Palestinians have taken widely different positions on what the Quartet meant.
Israel made clear in the Sunday statement that it saw the grouping as calling for negotiations without preconditions.
But the Palestinians say the documents and commitments referenced by the Quartet show that the grouping supports their insistence that talks be preceded by a freeze in settlement construction and clear parameters for negotiations.
Among the documents referenced is the 2003 “Road Map”, which called for a cessation of violence and a halt to Israeli settlement construction.
The Palestinians say the reference to the document is a sign that the Quartet expects Israel to halt Jewish construction in the occupied West Bank, including east Jerusalem, for talks to begin.
They say that the Quartet's reference to a May speech by U.S. President Barack Obama, which suggested using the pre-1967 lines as the basis for border discussions, indicates that negotiations should have clear parameters before they resume.
Meanwhile in an interview with Egypt’s Al-Hayat TV released Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Palestinians need to show flexibility and get back to the negotiating table.
Asked about the Palestinians’ quest for full recognition at the United Nations, the top U.S. diplomat appeared to try to downplay the importance of the ongoing effort, which Washington opposes and has promised to veto.
She said the U.S. concern was not what happened or did not happen there – but the need for negotiations to resume for real progress to be made.
“President Obama and I very much want to see a Palestinian state, and I have been publicly on record in favor of that since the 1990s,” she said, according to a transcript of the interview released by the State Department.
Yet “no matter what happens or doesn’t happen in the United Nations, unless we can get the Palestinians and the Israelis to negotiate over the boundaries of the state, the security provisions, what happens in Jerusalem, what happens with refugees, water, all of the issues we know so well have to be resolved, we’re going to raise expectations without being able to deliver,” Clinton said.
“I want the Palestinians to have their own state; I want them to govern themselves,” she said in the interview on Thursday.
“We want to see both sides back at the table,” Clinton said.
“We don’t want to see provocative actions. We’ve said that about the recent announcements from the Israeli government, but we also know that the Palestinians have to be willing to negotiate,” she said.
“And it’s hard for them because they feel like they’ve been at this for a while and nothing has happened. Both sides have their case to be made. Make it at the negotiating table. And that’s what we’re pushing for,” she said.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas made a historic bid for U.N. membership on September 23. But the United States has vowed to veto the application if it comes to a Security Council vote.