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Quartet makes push for Israel-Palestinian talks

WASHINGTON — The State Department says the Mideast mediators from the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia will meet this weekend in Brussels in their latest bid to try to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to peace talks.

Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that the Obama administration's special Mideast peace envoy, David Hale, will attend Sunday's meeting of the international diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East. Hale travels first to London, Paris and Berlin to meet European colleagues, she said.

The Quartet has proposed a resumption in negotiations that stalled a year ago with the goal of having an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement by the end of 2012. Israel has accepted the proposal with unspecified reservations while the Palestinians have said they will not return to talks until Israel freezes settlement activity.

Israel must find a way to resume negotiations with the Palestinians and has a responsibility to try and ease tensions with its neighbors in the region, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday amid prodding from the United States to return to peace talks.

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Standing next to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Barak pushed back a bit on the Pentagon chief's warning that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the region, threatening its security. And he offered no new thoughts on the thorny issues that have stymied the peace talks, including the proposed timetable and the contested settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Making his first trip to Israel as defense secretary, Panetta has pressed the Obama administration's view that the two sides must restart the long-stalled peace talks. And during a news conference with Barak, Panetta said it's time for bold action by both sides to move toward a negotiated two-state solution.

The pressure to resume negotiations is fueled by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' move two weeks ago asking the U.N. Security Council to recognize an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. Those areas were captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

Mideast negotiators -- known as the Quartet -- are urging the Israelis and Palestinians to produce comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months.

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