JERUSALEM: Envoys of the Middle East Quartet were meeting with Israel’s chief peace negotiator on Thursday, as the Jewish state faced growing pressure to break the logjam in talks with the Palestinians.
Talks with Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho were being hosted by the US embassy, with Washington represented by David Hale, assistant to US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, an embassy spokesman told AFP.
"There is a meeting today with the Quartet," Kurt Hoyer said. "We believe that Molcho is there as well and our Quartet envoy David Hale is there."
A European Union official in Jerusalem said the EU was represented at the meeting by Helga Schmid, deputy head of its external action service.
Middle East envoys Sergei Yakovlev and Robert Serry were attending for Russia and the United Nations respectively, other diplomats said.
Netanyahu’s office would say only that such a meeting was scheduled for Thursday, without giving further details.
The envoys were later due to meet with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat in the West Bank town of Jericho, Palestinian officials told AFP.
The Quartet is seeking to push the Israeli and Palestinians into renewing some kind of peace negotiations, which ran aground in September last year over an intractable dispute about Jewish settlements.
As the diplomats shuttled back and forth between the two sides, Israeli and Palestinian media reports suggested Mitchell himself could make an appearance in the region next week after an absence of three months.
Diplomatic efforts to engage the two sides have increased in recent weeks ahead of a key meeting of the Quartet principles which is expected to talk place in Paris later this month.
But Israeli press reports on Thursday suggested the meeting of the Quartet — which groups the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — could be postponed by a month, possibly to allow Netanyahu to float a reportedly "new" peace initiative.
One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that a date for the Quartet leaders’ meeting would largely depend on the outcome of Thursday’s talks with Molcho.
Although details of a new Netanyahu proposal have yet to be made public, the basics have been widely leaked to the Israeli press — a Palestinian state on temporary borders in the framework of a long-term interim agreement.
Netanyahu aides have suggested he may present his plan in Washington in the coming months — either in a speech to Congress or at a conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC in late May.
Last week, Quartet envoys held talks in Brussels with Erakat which focused on the parameters of Quartet statement to be issued at the end of the Paris meeting, Palestinian officials said.
Meanwhile, press reports said Israeli President Shimon Peres was seeking to secure an audience with US President Barack Obama when he visits Washington next month in order to discuss the options for reviving peace efforts.
Veteran political analyst Akiva Eldar, writing in Haaretz daily, said Peres had been in favour of an interim agreement along the lines reportedly now being mooted by Netanyahu when he served as foreign minister in the government of former prime minister Ariel Sharon.
"Eight years ago… Peres was the one who first came up with the idea of recognizing a Palestinian state in provisional borders, together with accelerated negotiations on a final-status agreement based on the 1967 lines," Eldar wrote.
"Peres reached an understanding about this with Ahmed Qureia, then head of the Palestinian negotiation team."
Sharon, he added, overruled the deal as he objected to a settlement based on the borders prior to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Peres’s office could not immediately confirm plans for an imminent US trip.
Although the Israeli presidency is largely ceremonial and carries no political power, Peres is a Noble peace laureate and elder statesman who has previously been involved in efforts to broker peace with the Palestinians.
Since the expiry in September of a temporary ban on settlement building — which Netanyahu refused to extend — the Palestinians have refused all direct contact with the Israelis, saying they will not talk while settlers build on land they want for a future state.