By The Associated Press
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel and the Palestinians said Sunday that their chief peace negotiators would attend a gathering of international diplomats in neighboring Jordan this week, bringing the sides together for the first time in more than a year.
Officials stressed that the meeting would not be a formal negotiating session. Nonetheless, it could mark an important step toward restarting peace talks, which broke down in September 2010.
“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 repeatedly tried to restart negotiations with the goal of forging a final peace agreement this year.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton welcomed the move. “We are hopeful that this direct exchange can help move us forward on the pathway proposed by the Quartet,” she said in a statement. “The status quo is not sustainable and the parties must act boldly to advance the cause of peace.”
Judeh is expected to hold a separate meeting with the Israelis and Palestinians, Kayed said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said his chief envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, would attend the meeting, while the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said he would go.
The meeting comes about six weeks after Jordanian King Abdullah II made a rare visit to the West Bank for talks with the Palestinians. Abdullah, who often serves as a mediator, hosted Israeli President Shimon Peres the following week.
Peace efforts have been largely frozen since December 2008. Israel and the Palestinians 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.
The Quartet has urged Israel and the Palestinians to submit proposals for security arrangements and final borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state. The Palestinians have already submitted proposals. Israel says it will only do so if negotiations resume.
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.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Erekat urged Israel “to use this opportunity to stop all settlement construction and accept the two state solution on the 1967 borders.”
Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected calls to return to the 1967 lines.
His office said Molcho would head to Amman “to participate in the Quartet meeting.” It gave no further details.