Quartet intensifies commitment to Palestinian statehood

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S.-led Quartet on the MIddle East will intensify its efforts to facilitate Palestinian statehood.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton released a statement Feb. 11 after speaking with Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who is the chief envoy of the Quartet, the body guiding Middle East peace-making comprising the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

Blair, the statement said, will "intensify his partnership" with George Mitchell, the top U.S. envoy to the region. This will be "consistent" with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s "plan for a future Palestinian state," the statement said. Fayyad has said he wants statehood by 2012.

The statement outlined Blair’s mission as "(1) to build support for the institutional capacity and governance of a future Palestinian State, including on the rule of law; (2) to improve freedom of movement and access for Palestinians; (3) to encourage further private sector investment; and (4) to bring change in the living conditions of the people in Gaza."

Clinton, who is touring the Middle East, spoke Sunday at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, an event in Qatar organized by the Washington D.C.-based think tank, the Brookings Institution.

"We have encouraged the Palestinians to pursue their home-grown plan to build their institutions, end incitement, improve security, to lay the foundation for a future stable, democratic Palestinian state," she said.

President Obama stressed U.S. commitment to a two-state solution in his video message to the conference.

"We remain unyielding in pursuit of a two-state solution that recognizes the rights and security of Israelis and Palestinians," he said in the message, which was released Saturday.

Clinton met earlier Sunday in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar with its prime minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al Thani, and delivered a "letter of guarantees" on the peace process.

In Clinton’s presence at a news conference, al Thani said the letter defines the U.S. "end game" in the peace process. He said Arab countries "demanded" the letter, presumably as a condition for continued commitment to the peace process.

Al Thani also said Arab states "don’t mind" a U.S. proposal for "proximity talks."

Such talks are indirect and brokered by a major power. They could be a way around Palestinian refusal to re-engage in direct talks with Israel unless it totally freezes settlement-building in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel recently instituted a partial settlement freeze.

"We do see the current Israeli settlement moratorium as a positive step" in the direction of peace talks, Clinton said at the forum in Qatar, "and we look for further steps. The United States’ policy on settlements has not changed; we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."

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