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U.S. to join mediators in Jerusalem

WASHINGTON -- The United States and other Mideast mediators will gather next week in another effort to revive the Israel-Palestinian peace process, but with little hope of even restarting direct negotiations, let alone reaching a breakthrough on a two-state peace agreement.

The "Quartet" of mediators -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- plans to meet Dec. 14 in Jerusalem, U.S. officials said.

The mood is decidedly pessimistic. Continued Israeli settlement expansion and Palestinian attempts to win recognition as a state at the UN are souring the environment for progress. An added hurdle is the U.S. election season and the constraints it will put on the Obama administration to effectively pressure either side, particularly Israel, which enjoys strong support in Congress.

The Quartet will confer separately with Israeli and Palestinian officials, officials said. Their governments are supposed to present each other with detailed proposals on territory and security by late January. The Quartet timeline was devised to reach a two-state agreement by the end of next year and sidestep a series of contentious UN votes over Palestinian statehood.

But that benchmark looks to be in serious jeopardy, further eroding whatever confidence may be left in the road map.

Under the Quartet plan, the two sides should have been engaged in face-to-face talks since October, and officials say the United States is blocking a Palestinian attempt to essentially negotiate the parameters of a peace deal by proxy.

Washington has adamantly argued that no progress is possible unless the Israelis and Palestinians negotiate directly. -- AP

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