Ethan Bronner
The New York Times
January 1, 2012 - 1:00am

Palestinian and Israeli negotiators plan to meet for the first time in more than a year in Jordan on Tuesday, in an effort to revive moribund peace talks, although none of the sides involved suggested any reason to view the meeting as a sign of significant progress.

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry said the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and the chief Israeli negotiator, Yitzhak Molho, would be joined by officials from Jordan as well as the so-called quartet — Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations — and would later hold a separate meeting.

It would be the first one-on-one meeting between the two sides since September 2010 when the Palestinians ended the talks after Israel did not renew a partial settlement freeze that was in place for 10 months in the West Bank, and resumed construction.

The Palestinians have insisted that the Israelis must again stop settlement building in the West Bank, as well as in East Jerusalem, for negotiations to start again. The Israelis say peace talks should proceed without preconditions.

Mr. Erekat said by telephone on Sunday that the demand for a settlement freeze remained and that he was going to the meeting out of respect for the efforts of King Abdullah II of Jordan. He said he hoped that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel would “see the significance of Jordan’s role and stop settlements to give the king the chance he deserves.”

He added, “The king understands the complexities and dangers and has decided to step in.”

A spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu, Mark Regev, said the Israelis had been calling for direct talks without preconditions for three years. But he said that there would be no new freeze on settlements.

The quartet has been trying to bring the Palestinians and Israelis back to direct talks by asking each to submit proposals on borders and security. The Palestinians have submitted their ideas but the Israelis say that if the goal is direct talks, the proposals should be given to the Palestinians once they meet.

King Abdullah has been taking an unusually active role in the Israeli-Palestinian issue in recent months. In November, he made a rare visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah to see Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. A week later, he invited President Shimon Peres of Israel to Amman, the Jordanian capital, for a meeting.

The higher profile the king has taken is partly an effort to fill a vacuum left by the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in February. Mr. Mubarak, who was a central backer of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and had good relations with Israel, often acted as a mediator to spur the two sides to improve their relations.

King Abdullah is also eager to send a message to Hamas, the militant Islamist group that governs the Gaza Strip, that despite the rise of Islamism in the region, the Palestinian Authority remains, in his view, the leader of the Palestinians. Mr. Abbas has started talks for a unity government with Hamas, but they are proceeding slowly.

The king also has a very specific interest in a moderate Palestinian state being established in the West Bank and Gaza — he has tensions with Islamists in his own country and in addition, he does not want to encourage any thoughts of a Palestinian state being established in Jordan instead, as some on the Israeli right advocate. More than half of the inhabitants of Jordan are Palestinian.

Jordan and Israel share a common interest in focusing Palestinian nationalism on the West Bank and Gaza to prevent its being focused on either of their states. Mr. Netanyahu and his aides say they also worry that any Palestinian state in the West Bank would ultimately be overrun by Islamists.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017