(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Palestinian and Israeli peace negotiators are meeting in Amman today in their first face-to-face talks in nearly 16 months, a senior official said on Monday.
Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said yesterday the meeting is a result of intensive Jordanian efforts led by His Majesty King Abdullah over the past few years to bring the two parties to the negotiating table.
But he stressed that Jordan is not acting as a mediator between the Palestinians and Israelis.
"We don't want to raise expectations, but holding the meetings between the Palestinians and Israelis is a Jordanian interest first and foremost," he said.
"Our objective is to bring them together and try to push for a breakthrough in the peace talks to arrive at addressing the final status issues, starting with borders and security," Judeh stressed.
He added that over the past few months and based on the directives by the King, he has been meeting with all parties involved in the peace process, adding that Jordan is concerned with providing an adequate climate for the talks, in which he will also be directly involved.
Judeh noted that three meetings will take place at the ministry's premises.
The first meeting will be attended by Judeh and Tony Blair, representative of the international Quartet for Middle East.
In the second meeting, Judeh said he will join the Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in addition to the Quartet members. The third meeting will only include Judeh, the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Meanwhile, Washington welcomed the Jordanian initiative in a statement issued yesterday by the US State Department.
"We welcome and support this positive development. I applaud the efforts of the King and Foreign Minister Judeh to bring the parties together and encourage them to approach these meetings constructively," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in the statement.
"I have been in close contact with Foreign Minister Judeh and with special envoy David Hale."
"When I met with the other Quartet principals on September 23, we put forward a framework for resuming direct negotiations between the parties," Clinton added.
"We knew that progress toward this goal would not be easy, so it is essential that both sides take advantage of this opportunity," she stressed, expressing hope that this direct exchange can help move all parties involved in the peace process forward on the pathway proposed by the Quartet.
"As the president and I have said before, the need for a lasting peace is more urgent than ever. The status quo is not sustainable and the parties must act boldly to advance the cause of peace," Clinton added.
Judeh said Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat will represent the Palestinian side, while the Israelis will be represented by Yitzhak Molcho, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's personal envoy, according to a statement by the Israeli embassy in Amman.
In the statement, Israeli national information directorate head, Yoaz Hendel, said: "We are grateful to King Abdullah and to Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh for their initiative in convening the sides in accordance with the Quartet outline."
Also on Tuesday, Agence France-Presse quoted Erekat as saying in an interview with Voice of Palestine radio that the meetings will be held to discuss the possibility of resuming negotiations.
"This meeting will be devoted to discussing the possibility of making a breakthrough that could lead to the resumption of negotiations. Therefore, it will not mark the resumption of negotiations," he said.
Speaking to reporters in Ramallah, Erekat urged Israel not to waste the rare opportunity of a face-to-face meeting.
"This is a valuable opportunity for peace and Israel shouldn't waste it and once again be the reason for the failure of efforts by the international community, by the Quartet and by Jordan, to resume the negotiations," he said.
Should Tuesday's meeting end without progress, a committee of officials from the Palestinian leadership would look into the available options and "present its recommendations to President [Mahmoud] Abbas within the next few days", he said, according to AFP.
He added that "2012 will be the year in which we continue our efforts to put Palestine on the map geographically".
"If the Israeli Premier [Benjamin Netanyahu] thinks that by continuing to build settlements and destroying any prospect of implementing the two-state solution, that he can stop our efforts, then he is wrong."
News that the two sides would be meeting for the first time in more than a year sparked an angry reaction from Gaza's Hamas rulers, who are trying to push through a reconciliation deal with Abbas' Fateh Party, AFP reported.
"We demand a boycott of this meeting," Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP. "Going to such a meeting is only betting on failure."
And the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also denounced the move as a "fatal error" which would force the Palestinians back into another pointless waiting game.
"The occupation and the Quartet are the only beneficiaries from the Amman meeting that is, in fact, a negotiations meeting that drains the Palestinian national account," the group said in a statement.