Israel Welcomes Mideast Talks Plan With Palestinians, but With Reservations

Israel's government welcomed on Sunday parts of an international proposal to resume long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians but said it had concerns about the plan.

The plan by Mideast mediators, known as the Quartet, calls for a peace deal in a year and asks both sides to produce comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months.

The Quartet presented the latest timetable after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked the U.N. late last month to recognize a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

The Palestinian request has put the U.S. and other countries in a diplomatically awkward position, forcing them to take sides for or against, and has stepped up pressure on the international community to chart out a resolution of the conflict.

The Israeli government would not say Sunday what its concerns were, saying only that it would raise them "at the appropriate time." However, Israeli officials have expressed reservations about the Quartet's timetable for the discussion of specific issues.

A senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat, dismissed the Israeli government's statement as disingenuous, noting that Israel has previously rejected key provisions of the Quartet proposal, including a freeze of Israeli settlement building on occupied land.

Last week, the Palestinians said the Quartet's plan contained "encouraging elements" but that they would not return to talks unless Israel freezes settlement building and accepts the pre-1967 war frontier as a baseline for talks.

The Palestinians, like the Israelis, seem wary of being perceived as the party blocking any resumption of negotiations.

The Quartet plan calls for a speedy resumption of peace talks, with the goal of reaching a comprehensive agreement by the end of 2012. In the meantime, it urges both sides to avoid "provocative actions."

On Sunday, senior Israeli Cabinet ministers discussed the Quartet's proposal. In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Israel "welcomes the Quartet's call for direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions" but said it would raise its "concerns" in the future.

Israeli officials have previously questioned the one-year timetable, as well as the Quartet's call to produce "comprehensive proposals" on territory and security within three months.

Israel believes these matters should not be broken away from a wider array of issues dividing Israel and the Palestinians, like the conflicting claims to east Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees displaced during Israel's establishment 63 years ago.

The Quartet -- the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia -- did not include any new ideas for bridging the gaps that have kept negotiations deadlocked for the past three years, chiefly the Palestinian demand for a settlement freeze.

But it "reaffirmed" its commitment to several older documents and proposals, including the U.S.-backed "road map", which calls for a complete settlement freeze.

Israel has refused to endorse the 1967 lines as a basis for the future Palestinian state , despite President Barack Obama's calls to do so. It says talks should immediately resume with no preconditions.

Just last week, Israel approved the construction of 1,100 new housing units in an area of Jerusalem built on land captured in 1967 in a move that drew widespread international condemnation.

In Cairo, Erekat questioned Netanyahu's seriousness toward the Quartet proposal, since the Israeli leader has rejected the Quartet's previous calls for a settlement freeze and its endorsement of the 1967 lines.

"Mr. Netanyahu should put his money where his mouth is and announce he will stop settlements and accept a two-state solution based on 1967," Erekat said. "If he doesn't accept this, it means he's playing a game of deception and public relations. No one is going to swallow it."