Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have gathered in the Jordanian capital for their first face-to-face meeting in more than 15 months, but both sides insisted full-blown talks remained some way off.
Israel’s chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, his Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and representatives of the Middle East peace quartet started their meeting at the foreign ministry in Amman on Tuesday, a Jordanian official said.
Judeh was to hold a separate meeting with Molcho and Erekat, said ministry spokesman Mohammad Kayed.
"We do not want to raise expectations, but holding the meetings between the Palestinians and Israelis is a Jordanian interest first and foremost," Judeh was quoted as saying by the government-owned Jordan Times.
"Our objective is to bring them together and try to push for a breakthrough in the peace talks."
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said on Tuesday the outcome of the meeting would soon be clear
Earlier, Nasser Judeh, Jordan’s foreign minister, said that Tuesday’s meeting was a "serious" bid to help relaunch the stalled peace talks.
Jordan has a 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
Tony Blair, the envoy of the international Quartet on the Middle East, was expected to attend the session, along with other officials of the grouping, made up of the European Union, Russia, the UN and the US.
"It is a serious effort to find a common ground between the two sides and help restart direct peace talks," Mohammad Kayed, the Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman, said.
"All sides should invest in this opportunity and help create the right environment for the success of this effort through refraining from unilateral and provocative actions."
First Official Meeting
The meeting will be the first official Israeli-Palestinian meeting since negotiations broke off in 2010, according to Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for the negotiations affairs department of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). However, he said it was not a negotiating session.
Erakat made the same point in an interview with Voice of Palestine radio. "This meeting will be devoted to discussing the possibility of making a breakthrough that could lead to the resumption of negotiations. Therefore, it will not mark the resumption of negotiations," he said.
Dan Meridor, a senior Israeli cabinet minister who also holds the intelligence portfolio and the post of deputy prime minister, told Israeli public radio that the meeting was "a positive development".
He said the meeting did not in itself constitute a return to direct talks, but expressed hope it would be a springboard which would "allow the Palestinians to return to negotiations".
‘Talks about Talks’
Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara said the meeting was merely about having "talks about talks".
"The Israelis need it. It seems [Mahmoud] Abbas needs it for the time being," he said. "Certainly the Europeans and the Americans need to give the impression that there is a peace process going on. It is a win-win situation for everybody, but a win-win situation that it seems, utterly, will fail."
Direct talks ground to a halt in September 2010, when an Israeli freeze on new West Bank construction expired and Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, declined to renew it. Israel insists on direct talks without preconditions.
"What the Palestinians are saying is ‘we are not negotiating’. The endgame is [Israel] must stop the settlements and recognise the two state solution on the borders of 1967.
Otherwise, the idea of negotiating over the pie, while Israel is eating the pie slowly but surely, is not going to lead to any good ending between them," Bishara said.
"The government of Mr Netanyahu says if Abbas and Hamas meet and reconcile then there will be no peace process.
"On the other hand the peace process has been, for the past 20 or so years, more a process, an ongoing open ended process that is not leading to peace," he said.
The new discussions were welcomed by members of the Quartet."We are hopeful that this direct exchange can help move us forward on the pathway proposed by the Quartet," Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said in a statement on Sunday.
"As the President [Barack Obama] and I have said before, the need for a lasting peace is more urgent than ever. The status quo is not sustainable and the parties must act boldly to advance the cause of peace."
In a statement, Erekat said: "This invitation is part of ongoing Jordanian efforts to compel Israel to comply with its international legal obligations …, specifically its obligation to freeze all settlement construction in all the occupied Palestinian territory, including occupied East Jerusalem."
He called on Israel to "seize this opportunity" and stop construction in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem, "in order to have the conducive environment called for under the Quartet statement of 23 September 2011, for meaningful and credible talks".
That statement had called for direct talks to be relaunched within a month, and for the sides to submit proposals on the two negotiating issues of borders and security by January 23.
It also set the end of 2012 as a deadline for an agreement.
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)