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Israeli, Palestinian officials hold first talks in more than a year

By Sheera Frenkel, McClatchy Newspapers –

JERUSALEM — Israeli and Palestinian officials met Tuesday in Jordan’s capital, Amman, in the first attempt at peace talks in more than a year. As expected, there were no breakthroughs.

Diplomats from the so-called quartet of Middle East peacemakers — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — witnessed the talks, though analysts said they saw no prospects for the two sides to agree soon to settle the decades-long standoff.

“It does not look like 2012 will be the year we solve the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” said one senior “quartet” diplomat who spoke only on the condition that neither his name nor country be identified, because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. “It’s ironic and maybe a bit sad that I can say that just a few days into 2012, but that’s what it looks like.”

Even as the two sides agreed to open the year with the talks, each was plotting a scheme that seemed intended to prevent agreement.

Palestinian officials are hoping to use their newfound backing in the U.N. to launch investigations into Israel and to rally support against Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked his aides to look into legislation that would retroactively legalize Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that have enraged Palestinians, and circumvent demolition orders that have been issued against several key settlements.

Officials close to Netanyahu, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly, said he’d continue expanding several key settlements, most notably in East Jerusalem. On Tuesday, less than two hours before the parties were scheduled to meet in Amman, officials in Jerusalem announced that 300 more homes would be built in an East Jerusalem settlement.

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