Israeli, Palestinian negotiators to meet in Jordan

January 1, 2012 - 10:31 AM

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Jordanian government on Sunday said it would host a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators this week, bringing the sides together for the first time in more than a year.

Officials said Tuesday's talks would not be a formal negotiating session. Nonetheless, it would mark a significant step toward restarting negotiations, which broke down in September 2010. There was no immediate comment from Israel.

"The upcoming meeting is part of serious and continuous efforts to reach a common ground to resume the direct negotiations," said Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Kayed.

He said Jordan's foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, would host the meeting of Israeli and Palestinian representatives with teams from the international Quartet of Mideast mediators. The Quartet, consisting of the U.S., European Union, Russia and the United Nations, has been trying to restart negotiations with the goal of forging a final peace agreement this year.

Judeh is expected to hold a separate meeting with the Israelis and Palestinians, Kayed said. He gave no details on the agenda or participants.

Peace efforts have been largely frozen since December 2008. The sides briefly resumed negotiations in September 2010 only to see them break down after several weeks when an Israeli moratorium on settlement construction expired.

The Palestinians have said they will not resume peace talks unless Israel freezes settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — captured territories that they claim for their independent state. With some 500,000 Israelis now living in these areas, the Palestinians say continued settlement construction is a sign of bad faith. Israel says talks should resume without preconditions.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, a senior Palestinian official, Azzam al-Ahmed, said the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and chief Israeli envoy Isaac Molcho were scheduled to be at Tuesday's meeting.

He said the sides were expected to present their positions on security matters and future borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

"This is not a negotiating session. The only intention is that both sides present their positions and we hope the Israeli answers will be positive, including stopping settlement activities and agreeing on the 1967 borders as the basis for a two-state solution," he said.

The Palestinians say Israel should commit to withdrawing to its lines before the 1967 Mideast war — when it captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem — as the basis of a final border.

Israeli officials would not immediately comment. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected calls to return to the 1967 lines.

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Halaby reported from Amman, Jordan.