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Efforts underway to try to save Israeli-Palestinian talks

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JERUSALEM — Diplomatic efforts were underway Thursday to try to rescue foundering Jordanian-sponsored talks between Israel and the Palestinians on borders and security, a day after a fifth round of discussions this month ended with no movement toward resuming formal negotiations.

Jordan’s foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, said late Wednesday that talks would not be held next week, “to allow us to assess where we are and how to move to the next stage,” the Jordanian news agency Petra reported.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said earlier that he was considering his next steps and that a decision will be made at a meeting with Arab League foreign ministers on Feb. 4.

“There has been no progress whatsoever,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said by telephone from Ramallah. “There are no talks anymore. We don’t want to be complicit in this game of deception.”

An Israeli official familiar with the discussions said the Palestinians were creating “an artificial crisis.”

“The idea that we were going to have a breakthrough in less than a month is not a realistic expectation, and I don’t think anyone expected it,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the talks. “We remain ready for substantial discussions of all issues.”

The meetings between Shlomo Molcho, an emissary of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, began Jan. 3, after more than a year of no direct talks between the two sides.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, met with Abbas in Amman, Jordan, on Thursday in an effort to prod him to continue the discussions.

“I don’t think there’s an impasse,” she told reporters after the meeting. “President Abbas is thinking carefully about how to move forward.”

Jordan initiated the discussions to advance a plan by international mediators to resume peace negotiations and reach an agreement by the end of this year. The group — known as the Quartet: the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — had set a deadline of this week for both sides to submit proposals on borders and security.

The Palestinians gave the Israelis a document with their plans at the first meeting. The Israelis verbally outlined their positions in the most recent discussions, on Saturday and Wednesday, said the Israeli official who described the talks.

“Last night, the Israeli side presented guiding principles under which Israel views the territorial question,” the official said. “We didn’t present maps. On Saturday night, Israel presented its security concept regarding the West Bank.”

In addition, the official said, Molcho submitted a 21-point working paper at the first meeting as a proposed blueprint for negotiations.

“The Palestinians have asked for clarifications about issues we raised, and we’ve asked the Palestinians for clarifications about what they’ve raised,” the official added. “It would be a pity if these preliminary talks were prematurely ended.”

But Ashrawi said the Israelis had not submitted specific proposals for any of the core issues in dispute.

“We see a public relations exercise, an attempt to create the impression that they want to talk while grabbing more land and destroying the substance of the talks,” she said. “They just want talks for their own sake. This could go on forever while they go on building settlements and annexing Jerusalem and finally laying to rest the two-state solution.”

The Palestinians have said that they will not resume negotiations unless Israel halts settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, activity they say is swallowing up land they seek for a future state. They have also demanded that Israel accept its 1967 boundary with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as the basis for a peace deal.

Netanyahu has rejected a settlement freeze and a return to the 1967 lines, urging talks without preconditions to resolve all issues.

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