Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
January 9, 2012 - 1:00am

JERUSALEM — Israeli and Palestinian officials met in the Jordanian capital on Monday, their second session in less than a week, after peace talks had been stalled for more than a year. The encounter was kept at such a low profile, however, that it was almost as if it had not happened at all — attesting to the fragility of the contacts and the apparently minimal expectations each side has for progress.

A Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity from Ramallah in the West Bank, said that the Israeli side did not produce anything on Monday that could move the process forward.

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, said only that if the talks were to have any chance of success, “they must be allowed to be conducted with discretion.”

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry, the only party authorized to make public statements about the meetings, did not make any comment.

The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — known as the quartet — worked for months to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. The talks have been described as exploratory sessions, where the sides can sound each other out on the possibility of resuming full-scale negotiations for a peace deal.

The previous, brief round of direct talks broke down in September 2010 when a 10-month Israeli moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank expired. The Palestinians have refused to resume formal negotiations unless the building freeze is renewed, a demand consistently rejected by Israel.

The parties have agreed with the quartet to come forward with comprehensive proposals on territory and security by Jan. 26. The Palestinian official said that unless the Israelis renew their settlement freeze and commit to a territorial solution based on pre-1967 boundary lines by then — an unlikely prospect in his view — the new round of contacts will end.

Israel has consistently called for negotiations with no preconditions. The quartet backed that call, but also made clear that continued settlement construction was not conducive to creating an environment for peace talks.

Last week, the Israeli envoy, Yitzhak Molho, and the Palestinian representative, Saeb Erekat, both veteran negotiators, exchanged documents. Neither contained anything new, according to officials.

Yet the sides have refrained from openly criticizing each other, to avoid taking the blame if the initiative fails.

Only Israel’s blunt-talking, ultranationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has publicly expressed skepticism about the meetings, which are held in Jordan. He told Israel Radio on Monday that the Palestinians were “working to internationalize the conflict,” referring to the effort to gain full recognition of statehood in the United Nations, and that they were trying to “flee direct negotiations.”

In another development on Monday, Noam Shalit, the father of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was held captive by Hamas in Gaza for five years and was recently released in a prisoner exchange, said he was entering politics.

Mr. Shalit said he would seek a place on the left-leaning Labor Party’s candidate list in the next parliamentary elections, according to the party’s Hebrew Web site. He became a household name in Israel as he campaigned for his son’s release and garnered public sympathy and support for his family.

“After years of a public struggle, during which I became deeply acquainted with Israeli society, its beauty and values, I have decided to join public activity,” Mr. Shalit said in a statement.

On Sunday, Yair Lapid, a popular television host whose father was a well-known politician and journalist, said he, too, would enter politics. He is likely to set up a new party, and polls suggest that it could drain votes away from Kadima, the large centrist opposition party.


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