Israelis and Palestinians meet, agree to keep talking


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves to the crowd gathered for the opening of a research center in Ramallah on Tuesday. The chief Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators met in Jordan later in the day with the goal of laying the groundwork for the resumption of peace talks. (Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP)
January 3, 2012

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met for the first time in more than a year in Amman on Tuesday and agreed to keep talking at further meetings, Jordan’s foreign minister said, adding that Israel had received written Palestinian proposals on borders and security and would respond.

Although the minister, Nasser Judeh, was careful not to characterize Tuesday’s talks and the coming meetings as negotiations, the discussions in Jordan marked a resumption of direct contacts between the Israelis and Palestinians after a protracted impasse in peace efforts.

“The important thing is that the two sides have met face to face today,” Judeh told a news conference.

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration was hopeful that “this direct exchange can help move us forward on the pathway proposed by the Quartet.”

Peace talks relaunched with a push from the administration in September 2010 quickly broke down after the expiration of an Israeli moratorium on new construction in West Bank settlements, and the Palestinians said they would not resume negotiations unless the building stopped.

With peace efforts deadlocked, the Palestinians applied for membership as a state in the United Nations last September, only to see the effort bog down in the Security Council. At the same time, the group of Middle East mediators known as the Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — issued a proposal for the resumption of direct negotiations leading to an agreement by the end of this year, but efforts to get the two sides together faltered.

Still, both the Israelis and Palestinians accepted an invitation by Jordan to meet on Tuesday, apparently not wishing to be seen as obstructing efforts by King Abdullah to break the deadlock, even as their positions remained far apart.

Representatives of the Quartet, including Tony Blair, the group’s envoy, attended the Amman meetings, as did Yitzhak Molcho, an emissary of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

Molcho and Erekat met first with the Quartet officials and later talked directly with one another at a separate session attended by Judeh, who described the atmosphere as “positive.”

Judeh said the Palestinians had given the Israeli side their proposals on borders and security, as called for under the Quartet blueprint. “The Israeli side received them and promised that through this continuing dialogue there will be an Israeli counter-proposal or an Israeli response to that,” Judeh said.

He added that it was agreed that further meetings “will take place on a continual basis without prior announcement of the date and time, but they will be in Jordan” and that “public readouts of these meetings will be conducted by myself, by the Jordanian side, in order to preserve the integrity and effectiveness of this process.”

“A discussion has begun,” Judeh said, adding that “hopefully” there would be “serious discussions in the coming phase . . . on borders, on security, on other final status issues, and sticking to the Quartet timeline of concluding all discussions by the end of 2012.”

Israel has called for a resumption of direct negotiations with out preconditions. The Palestinians have said the talks can resume only if the Israelis halt settlement building and accept the 1967 boundary between Israel and the West Bank as the basis for a peace deal. Palestinian officials say that settlement construction swallows up land they seek for a future state and prejudices the outcome of negotiations.

Asked about Israeli settlement building, Judeh noted that the Quartet plan calls on both sides to refrain from “provocative actions,” but he added that the fate of the settlements is to be decided in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

In hosting Tuesday’s talks and further Israeli-Palestinian contacts, Jordan has stepped into a void left by Egypt, which has been preoccupied with its internal affairs since the revolution a year ago that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak, analysts said.

The Jordanian leadership is concerned that a prolonged deadlock in peace efforts could lead to renewed Palestinian-Israeli violence that could unsettle Jordan, where King Abdullah is facing demands for curbs on his powers from the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as from some tribal leaders who have long been a bastion of support, said Hani al-Masri, a Palestinian political analyst in Ramallah.

Renewed conflict could exacerbate tensions in Jordan between Palestinians, who make up more than 50 percent of the population, and East Bank Jordanians, Masri said.

“Jordan’s situation is very delicate, and it wants to prevent further deterioration,” he said.

Judeh, the Jordanian foreign minister, noted that resolving the core issues in dispute between Israel and the Palestinians was a key Jordanian interest. “Our national security is affected by that,” he said.

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