Israelis, Palestinians to meet but prospects bleak

AMMAN Mon Jan 2, 2012 6:24pm EST

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 1, 2012. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

AMMAN (Reuters) - Israeli and Palestinian negotiators meet in Jordan Tuesday alongside international mediators trying to revive their stalled peace talks, but neither side is raising hopes they can end more than a year of deadlock.

Negotiations stalled in late 2010 after Israel refused to renew a partial freeze on Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, as demanded by Palestinians.

The Palestinians say they cannot hold talks while Israel cements its hold on land it captured in a 1967 war and on which they intend to establish an independent state. Israel says peacemaking should have no preconditions.

"The only way to reach an agreement is through talks," Israeli cabinet minister Dan Meridor said. "There is an opening to renew negotiations... We must hope that things will work out but it does not depend only on us."

Palestinians were also downbeat ahead of the Amman meeting.

"We should not impose on this meeting a heavy load," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. "I do not know if the Israeli side is bringing anything new, or if they are willing to put their position on the table."

The talks at the Jordanian Foreign Ministry bring together Erekat, Israel's Yitzhak Molcho and representatives of the Quartet of Middle East mediators - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

A ministry spokesman said earlier this week that the meeting aimed at reaching common ground to allow a resumption of direct talks between Israel the Palestinians, with the goal of reaching a peace accord by the end of this year.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also urged both sides to "take advantage of this opportunity.

"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," Clinton said.

NO RESUMPTION

But a senior figure in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's umbrella PLO executive said Israel and the Palestinians were simply fulfilling a request by the Quartet to present their positions on the issues of security and borders.

"This is not a resumption of negotiations," Wasl Abu Yossef told Reuters in Ramallah, the seat of Abbas's administration.

A diplomat in Amman also said Tuesday's meeting was not expected to lead to a breakthrough. "To be realistic, it won't solve anything, (although) it could give new energy" to the process, the diplomat said.

Established a decade ago, the Quartet has in recent months taken a leading role in attempts to broker new negotiations, stepping in after U.S. President Barack Obama's administration failed to revive diplomacy.

Most countries deem Israel's West Bank settlements illegal. Israel disputes this, and says it would keep settlement blocs under any peace deal in accordance with understandings reached in 2004 with then-U.S. president George W. Bush.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government also criticizes Abbas for seeking a reconciliation with the Islamists of Hamas, who control Gaza and reject permanent co-existence with Israel. Abbas has also balked at Israel's demand that he recognize it as a Jewish state.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called on the Palestinian Authority to boycott Tuesday's meeting, saying it was part of a "policy of failure."

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Jihan Abdalla in Ramallah; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Mark Heinrich)