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Palestinian state in 2 years gets qualified Quartet nod

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S.-led Quartet driving Middle East peace talks gave a qualified approval to a Palestinian plan for statehood within two years.

"Recalling that transformative change on the ground is integral to peace, the Quartet welcomes the Palestinian Authority’s plan for constructing the institutions of the Palestinian state within 24 months as a demonstration of the P.A.’s serious commitment to an independent state that provides opportunity, justice and security for the Palestinian people and is a responsible neighbor to all states in the region," said the statement issued late Thursday by the Quartet, which includes the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.

Israeli officials rejected the two-year plan for statehood proposed earlier this month by P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, saying it amounted to a unilateral move.

The Quartet statement also called for adherence to earlier agreements "irrespective of reciprocity," a pointed reference to Israel’s longstanding position that action on freezing settlements must be preceded by an end to terrorism.

"The Quartet urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth; and to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem and calls on the Palestinian Authority to continue to make every effort to improve law and order, to fight violent extremism and to end incitement," the statement said. Israel is ready to freeze settlements for a six-month period with a period, but not in Jerusalem and as long as a freeze allows for natural growth.

P.J. Crowley, a U.S. State Department spokesman, later suggested that the Quartet’s position was the "ideal situation" for resuming talks, but was not a precondition.

The statement also called for a "reopening" of the Gaza Strip, which has been closed off by Israel — and Egypt, under an agreement with Israel — because of rocket attacks on Israel authorized and enabled by its Hamas rulers.

The Quartet statement added calls for an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza and for the immediate release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive for more than three years by Hamas.

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