Israel Agrees to Look at PA Final Status Proposal After Amman Meet

Move is rare glimmer of progress in an encounter producing no large breakthrough, though the three-and-a-half-hour meeting did not break down either.

Israeli negotiator Isaac Molho agreed to look at the Palestinian's final status proposal during the first meeting in month between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in Amman, Jordan, on Tuesday.

The move was a rare glimmer of progress in an encounter that produced no large breakthrough, though the three-and-a-half-hour meeting did not break down either.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and his Israeli counterpart Molho have decided to meet again in Amman next week.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said at a press conference on Tuesday that Erekat had informed Molho of the Palestinians' official position on a final status agreement and borders and Molho agreed to consider them, a first.

The Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and the Quartet had reportedly set such low expectations for Tuesday's meeting that they were able to show satisfaction at the end of the meeting, calling it "good and useful."

The meeting took place after representatives of the Quartet met with both officials to gauge the parties' positions to the Quartet's initiative to resume direct talks between the parties.

The meeting began at 5 P.M. Tuesday, with Erekat and Molho sitting at either end of a table together with their host, Judeh, Quartet envoy Tony Blair and senior diplomats representing the members of the Quartet: Russia, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.

After about an hour in the larger forum, the Quartet representatives left the room, and Erekat, Molho and Judeh continued the meeting. Judeh also met separately with Erekat and Molho.

Molho said during the meeting that Israel wanted to move to direct negotations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and that talks be be continuous and intensive.

Judeh said Molho promised that Israel would study the Palestinian positions in the coming days.

Abbas said on Tuesday in Ramallah that if talks on borders and a final status agreement are not renewed by January 26, the three-month deadline set by the Quartet for the renewal of talks, the PA would take steps that "might be harsher than in the past."

The PA could renew its demand for recognition by the United Nations in order to isolate Israel internationally, but is also considering requesting that the Security Council send international observers to the West Bank.

He said the results of the Erekat-Molho talks would become known in a few days.

Abbas said he hoped efforts to advance the peace process succeed, but that the Palestinians did not intend to back down on their demands, first and foremost a construction freeze in the settlements.

If Israel stopped construction, Abbas said, "We are prepared to return immediately to talks."

In the meantime, construction over the Green Line is continuing.

The Housing Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration on Tuesday issued three new tenders for nearly 300 housing units in East Jerusalem, out of the 500 units whose construction the Housing Ministry announced two weeks ago.

Forty-seven of the units are to be built in the neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev, northeast of the capital, and 247 units in Har Homa, on the southern outskirts of the city. Of the latter, 130 are for a retirement home.

The leftist group Ir Amim said the tenders were published on Tuesday to convey a message ahead of Tuesday's meeting in Jordan between Israel and the Palestinians. "It is a slap in the face of [Jordan's] King Abdullah and the entire international community," the group said.

Also on Tuesday, Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is in prison in Israel, said that the peace process was dead and could not be revived. He added that the Palestinians should turn to peaceful popular resistance and that all factions should unite in agreement on a strategy for a new struggle.