Israel envoy: Outlook for peace talks not ‘particularly bright’

Quartet’s mediators look for a new start

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The outlook for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks does not look “particularly bright,” Israel’s ambassador to the United States said Tuesday, as international mediators descended on Jerusalem in search of a formula to jump-start negotiations between the parties.

“Our policy remains direct negotiations to achieve a two-state solution. … Until further notice, that is our policy — to try to get [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table,” Ambassador Michael Oren told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “What can I say? It doesn’t look particularly bright.”

Representatives of the Quartet — the Middle East peacemaking committee consisting of the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — are in the region this week to seek Israeli and Palestinian agreement on a statement that would guide a new round of talks.

Mr. Abbas has been lobbying U.N. Security Council members to endorse the Palestinian membership application he submitted last month.

He also has refused to join final-status negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unless the Israeli leader imposes a complete freeze on settlements in the West Bank and accepts President Obama’s formulation that the borders of a Palestinian state be based on Israel’s pre-1967 lines.

In recent days, Palestinian officials have spoken of a third precondition: the release of top Palestinian prisoners who were not among the 1,027 released last week as part of Israel’s deal with Hamas to free captured Staff Sgt. Gilad Schalit.

The Schalit deal set into motion a chain of events that produced a second prisoner swap Tuesday, as the Israeli Cabinet unanimously agreed to free 25 Egyptian prisoners in return for an accused Israeli spy who has been held by Egypt’s interim military government since June.

Mr. Oren blasted the heroes’ welcome given to the freed Palestinian prisoners, many of whom had been convicted of terrorism.

“I think it underscores the great difference between Israeli society and the society on the other side,” the ambassador said. “We celebrate life, they revel in death.”

He accused the Palestinian Authority, like the militant group Hamas, of celebrating killers, such as the mastermind of a 2001 bombing on a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem.

Mahmoud Abbas comes out and says, ‘Not only are these people heroes, but we’re going to work for the release of the terrorist who killed 39 people at a Passover Seder in Netanya, that’s a hero,’” Mr. Oren said. “What kind of message does that send to Palestinian children?”

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About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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