JERUSALEM – International mediators will sit down with Palestinian and Israeli officials in Jerusalem on Wednesday in the hope of finding a formula to restart the deadlocked peace talks.
But in a telling commentary on the beleaguered state of peacemaking, they will be huddling separately with officials from each side and will not be meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
The mission by the Quartet on the Middle East peace negotiators comes after the Palestinians asked the United Nations last month to recognize an independent state of Palestine. The request defied a US-led effort to block the move, which is currently under review at the UN Security Council.
Immediately after the statehood application was submitted, the Quartet – representing the US, European Union, Russia and UN – called for a resumption of peace talks in a month, with the ambitious goal of reaching a peace agreement by late 2012.
The Palestinian official who was to meet with the Quartet sounded gloomy about prospects for resuming peacemaking.
"We have no expectations of this meeting because the Quartet has no vision of how to move the peace process forward," Saeb Erekat told Voice of Palestine Radio on Wednesday.
The Palestinians rejected a Quartet proposal to have Erekat meet face to face with the Israeli official Yitzhak Molcho.
They refuse to resume direct talks until Israel agrees to freeze construction on captured lands the Palestinians claim for a future state. They also want to base talks on the contours of a future Palestinian state on lines Israel held before capturing East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israel rejects both conditions.
Israel still occupies East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but still controls the land crossing between Israel and Gaza and maintains a naval blockade on the territory, which is controlled by anti-Israel Hamas militants.
Israel says it is prepared to sit down with the Palestinians at any time but only without conditions. But Palestinians are skeptical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's commitment to peacemaking because of hard line positions he has taken, including his opposition to partitioning Jerusalem.
"Israel has welcomed the Quartet's call for the resumption of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians without preconditions," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Wednesday. "And we hope to see the early resumption of such talks."
Talks stalled three years ago, then resumed for a brief three weeks in September 2010 before collapsing after a 10-month Israeli settlement construction slowdown expired.
The deadlock prompted the Palestinians to seek statehood through the UN, where the move faces a threatened US veto at the Security Council if the Palestinians manage to muster the required support of nine of the council's 15 members.
Without Security Council backing, the most the Palestinians can hope for is a largely symbolic upgrade of their status at the UN to-member observer state.