Israel and the Palestinian government in the West Bank have told international mediators that peace talks they began last year are substantial and promising.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas discussed the peace process on Sunday with the international quartet of Mideast mediators in Egypt's resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. The quartet consists of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union.
The mediators called for the peace process to continue as the United States and Israel undergo political transitions early next year. U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is due to take office in January, and Israel holds national elections in February. A quartet statement says President Abbas and Foreign Minister Livni committed to holding continuous bilateral negoations and agreed that all issues must be agreed for a deal to be final.
The two sides had previously said they hoped to reach a deal by the end of this year. But there has been no public sign of a breakthrough in key disputes about the borders of a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees. The quartet Sunday reiterated its calls for Israel to freeze settlement activity in the West Bank and for the Palestinians to dismantle militant infrastructure.
At the meeting, quartet special envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Mr. Obama's administration should focus on Mideast peace from its first day in office. He urged it to build on what he called the "foundation" of the Annapolis process. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also attended the talks, said Israel and Mr. Abbas' government believe in the peace process. Participants at the meeting also discussed convening a new Quartet conference in Moscow early next year.