REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will meet this week in Jordan with international mediators, Jordanian officials announced Sunday, bringing the two rivals together for their first direct talks in more than a year.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh on Tuesday will host a meeting between the two sides’ negotiators and mediators from the so-called quartet — the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union — Jordan’s Petra news agency reported, citing a Foreign Ministry spokesman. That session will be followed by another meeting between the Israelis and Palestinians.
While not labeled formal negotiations, the talks are seen as a small step forward in a peace effort that has long been stymied.
Israel has repeatedly said it is willing to resume direct negotiations so long as the Palestinians make no preconditions. The Palestinians in turn have repeatedly said that talks cannot resume unless Israel halts settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and agrees to use the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war as a baseline for negotiations.
Negotiations were further sidelined after the Palestinians sought, unsuccessfully, membership in the United Nations and then succeeded in joining the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government approved new housing projects on land seized during the 1967 war.
A Sept. 23 statement by the quartet is expected to be the basis for efforts to resume negotiations. It calls for each side to offer comprehensive plans on certain issues within three months of resuming talks and to finish the entire negotiation by the end of this year.
A month ago, the Palestinians reportedly submitted to the quartet a detailed proposal on security arrangements and prospective borders that reflected their willingness to accept a small portion of Israeli territory in exchange for Israel keeping a part of the West Bank territory it seized in 1967. No such submission by Israel has been reported.
On Sunday, Netanyahu's office confirmed reports of the coming talks and said attorney Yitzhak Molcho, his envoy, would attend. The Palestinians’ chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, also was expected to attend.
Jordan's peacemaking efforts are based on "the belief that the two-state solution, which leads to the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian national state, is a top Jordanian interest," Petra quoted the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammed Kayed, as saying.
Jordanian King Abdullah II has become increasingly vocal on the need to press ahead in the peace process and his attitude toward Israel's leadership appears more critical and cool than in the past.
"They are sticking their heads in the sand, pretending that there isn't a problem," he told the Wall Street Journal in September. In November, he made a rare visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas but held no meetings in Jerusalem with Israeli leaders.
-- Batsheva Sobelman
Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, arrives for a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday. Credit: Ronen Zvulun / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images