Prospects for an early return to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority appear to have been dashed as both sides dig in their heels in opposition to concessions proposed by the Quartet of Middle East mediators.
The executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization said Thursday the proposal from the four parties – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – contained encouraging elements, but the Palestinian Authority could not agree to a return to talks until Israel ends all construction in its West Bank settlements.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the PLO, noted that the Quartet's own proposal cited documents and past agreements that call for such a halt and for using the pre-1967 borders as the basis for negotiations. He said Israel has refused to accept either position.
"The Palestinian leadership stresses clearly that it cannot accept holding negotiations that lack the minimum limits of responsibility and seriousness amid the continuation of settlements and stealing of land," Mr. Abed Rabbo said.
The Quartet called for the two sides to hold preparatory talks within a month, to present substantive proposals on borders and security within three months and a peace deal by the end of 2012. The Quartet's members failed to agree on terms of reference for a compromise that might salvage peace talks.
Expressing frustration over the failure of past negotiations, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas formally asked the United Nations last Friday to grant membership to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel and the United States oppose the idea, arguing that only negotiations between the parties can produce a peaceful resolution to the 63-year-old conflict and lead to an acceptable Palestinian state.
Members of Israel's governing coalition are said to be divided over whether to accept the Quartet's proposal. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to announce its formal response to the Quartet next week, following three days of holidays marking the Jewish New Year.
But for some members, the verdict already is in. Leaders of four parliamentary factions, including the caucus leader of Mr. Netanyahu's own Likud party, have demanded the government take punitive action against the Palestinian Authority for its bid to win UN membership.
In a letter earlier this week to the Prime Minister, the faction heads called on Mr. Netanyahu to cease the transfer of tax revenue collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and to move quickly to annex parts of the West Bank in which Israeli settlers are concentrated. If the Prime Minister fails to take such action, the letter stated, he will "encourage the Palestinians to continue acting against [Israel]in the international arena." The letter was signed by the caucus heads of Likud, Shas, National Union and Jewish Home.
The faction chairman of Yisrael Beitenu, led by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, declined to sign the letter, saying he thought the process begun by Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lieberman should be allowed to run its course.
Separately, Danny Danon, a prominent Likud member of the Knesset, says he will submit his own bill to annex large parts of the West Bank as soon as the Israeli parliament reconvenes next month. Mr. Danon, who has frequently criticized Mr. Netanyahu for being too moderate in matters concerning Palestinians, said he has the support of 15 of Likud's 27 members of the Knesset, including that of Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon, for his proposed legislation.