US officials said the meeting on Tuesday of the so-called "quartet"  - UN chief Kofi Annan, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and top EU diplomat Javier Solana - would issue a joint appeal for Israel and the Palestinians to move ahead with the "roadmap".

 

But they held out little hope for short-term results from the statement. "It's gotten complicated and it's getting more complicated every day," said one US official on Tuesday. "There's only so much the quartet or anyone, for that matter, can do."

 

Difficulty

  

The United States in particular faces difficulty in its multi-roles as "honest broker" between the Israelis and the Palestinians, prime sponsor of the roadmap and endorser of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

  

"It's gotten complicated and it's getting more complicated every day"

Unnamed US official

Washington's partners in the quartet reacted warily to US President George Bush's embrace of Sharon's plan, notably because he condoned the presence of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and implicitly rejected the longstanding demand that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to land they fled or were forced from when Israel was created in 1948.

  

Along with Arab leaders, the quartet members insisted that the only way to reach a settlement was through the "roadmap", a position that US officials found themselves leaping to in the face of widespread anger at Bush's decision.