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Faint hope for peace process as second date set for talks

    Direct talks: Erekat
    Direct talks: Erekat

    There was no breakthrough in the first official talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives on Tuesday in Amman but the fact that the meeting did not end acrimoniously and both sides agreed to meet again next week is seen as progress in itself.

    The meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's personal emissary, Isaac Molho, and the Palestinian Authority's senior negotiator, Saeb Erekat, under the auspices of the Jordanian government and the Middle East Quartet, is not being described as a resumption of full negotiations.

    The Palestinians are still demanding that Israel commit to a freeze of settlement building before re-launching talks. However, last month they offered to relinquish that demand and resume negotiations in return for a release of prisoners.

    The willingness of both sides to meet this week without prior conditions is seen by diplomats in Israel as a sign of the concern both of Israelis, and the Fatah-dominated PA, over Hamas's new Egypt and Turkey-backed push for political influence.

    Both the Israelis and the PA, however, briefed the media regarding "extremely low expectations" before the meeting. Meanwhile, the Palestinians announced that they are planning to resume their diplomatic campaign for international recognition of an independent state.

    The first part of the meeting in the Jordanian capital was attended by representatives of the Quartet members - the United States, Russia, the EU and the United Nations. Quartet envoy Tony Blair was also present. In the second part, Mr Molho and Mr Erekat met Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

    Despite the official Israeli policy that negotiations can only take place as direct talks, Mr Molho agreed for the first time to accept from Mr Erekat, on behalf of the government, two documents detailing the PA position on the issues of borders and security arrangements. Mr Molho said that Israel would deliver a response in the next meeting, currently scheduled to take place in Amman next week.

    An Israeli diplomat predicted that further talks would probably take place "under the radar" with a view to creating a diplomatic channel "that will also serve to counter the growing influence of Hamas".

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