Jan 15, 2:56 PM EST

US, UN, EU and Russia to meet in late January to discuss Israeli-Palestinian issues


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UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Key Mideast mediators - the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia - will meet this month to discuss the way toward Israeli-Palestinian peace as tensions escalate in the decades-old conflict.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power made the announcement during the U.N. Security Council's monthly Mideast debate, calling the status quo "unsustainable." She urged both sides "to exercise maximum restraint and avoid steps that threaten to push Israeli-Palestinian relations into a cycle of further escalation."

The meeting of envoys from the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators will be Jan. 26 in Brussels, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

It follows the council's recent rejection of a Palestinian-backed resolution demanding an end to Israeli occupation within three years and the Palestinians' subsequent decision to join the International Criminal Court. Relations also remain fraught following last summer's 50-day Gaza war between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the earlier failure of U.S.-brokered peace talks.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the Security Council that the Quartet, at ministerial level, "should be promptly reinvigorated."

Chile's Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz, the current council president, said "a lot more" international engagement is needed including the Quartet, the Arab League and others.

The Palestinians have made clear that they oppose further direct negotiations with Israel mediated by the U.S., saying 20 years of such talks have not produced results.

"We are willing to negotiate, but now in a different way, through an international conference or a collective process," Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, told a group of reporters last week.

The perilous state of Israeli-Palestinian relations was evident at Thursday's meeting.

Assistant Secretary-General Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "is alarmed that the parties are now engaged in a downward spiral of actions."

"Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have taken the challenging steps, or made the bold decisions, required to begin the process of reversing the ever-widening trust deficit between the two sides," he said. "Instead, we have witnessed developments which may unfortunately further reduce the likelihood of talks resuming in the future."

Toyberg-Frandzen called on Israel to immediately transfer the estimated $127 million in tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority for December. Israel froze the funds in response to actions that will make Palestine a member of the ICC on April 1. As a member of the court, the Palestinians will have standing to pursue war crimes charges against Israel.

The Palestinians and Israelis say they remain committed to peace and accuse each other of blocking the road to a two-state solution.

Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador, warned that the situation is "becoming more fragile and volatile by the day while a peaceful solution remains elusive due to lack of political will and the intransigence of Israel." In Jerusalem, which has seen clashes over access to holy sites, "tensions are raging as Israeli violations and crimes push the situation to a precipice," he warned.

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of remaining "committed to the three no's. He will not negotiate, he will not recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and he will not make peace." He accused the Palestinian Authority of committing "every form of diplomatic treachery" last year by abandoning peace talks, forming a government with Hamas, honoring "convicted terrorists" and breaking its word by signing up to join dozens of treaties and conventions including the ICC.

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