Israeli negotiators presented the country's general principles concerning the borders of a future Palestinian state on Wednesday as part of peace talks being held in Jordan - the first time the current government has agreed to address the territorial issue.
But Israeli negotiators stopped short of handing their Palestinian counterparts any maps or written documents.
The Palestinians insisted the talks would be discontinued if Israel did not deal directly with the issue.
Yitzhak Molcho, head of the Israeli negotiation team in Jordan, presented his counterpart, Saeb Erekat, with a set of principles without saying where the border would be drawn, nor what percentage of land would be part of a possible land swap. Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh was present at the meeting.
One of the principles laid out by Molcho was that most Israeli settlers would remain on the Israeli side of the border, while most of the Palestinians in the West Bank would live in the Palestinian state.
A senior Israeli official familiar with the talks said that Molcho had indeed presented only an initial position, but one that reflected substantial principles. The source denied it was merely a way to evade the topic of borders.
But doubts persist that the Israeli action was a tactical move to stall for time and avoid a breakdown in the talks. Israel has promised the Palestinians it would present its position concerning borders by the end of March.
Erekat asked Molcho for clarifications on Israel's position, and Molcho promised to provide answers in a future meeting, within a few days.
Molcho also suggested that now Israel has stated its principles concerning borders, the Palestinians would agree to discuss security arrangements.
On Saturday, Erekat had refused to allow a senior Israeli officer to present the Israeli position on security arrangements, which led to a bitter confrontation between the sides.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared before the meeting between Molcho and Erekat that talks had ended without results.
After the meeting, the Palestinians continued to insist there was no breakthrough, and said they would consult with a number of Arab states to decide whether to continue the negotiations.
Abbas' next move
Following Abbas' comments, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said on Thursday that the talks were not at a dead end. "I don't think there's an impasse," she told reporters, following talks with Abbas in Amman.
"President Abbas is thinking carefully about how to move forward," Ashton said.
Meanwhile, European countries stepped up the effort to keep the talks on track. German Chancellor Angela Merkel phoned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and told him she was worried that negotiations would break down.
Merkel released a statement stressing that the prime minister must do everything possible to ensure negotiations continue, and stating that she had updated him about her meetings with Abbas in Berlin last week.
Netanyahu told Merkel that Israel was willing to embark on a series of trust-building steps, and the German chancellor promised to relay that information to Abbas.
In the past few weeks, Palestinian envoys have demanded that Israel release 130 prisoners put in Israeli prisons before the 1993 Oslo Accords, and 23 Hamas members of parliament.
The United States, Jordan and the European Union suggested that Israel consider making gestures toward the Palestinian Authority, such as stopping military actions in areas of the West Bank under full Palestinian jurisdiction (known in the Oslo Accords as Area A ), and allowing the PA to expand its activities in Areas B and C areas (under partial and complete Israeli security control, respectively ).
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