Israeli, Palestinian diplomats meet quietly

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been meeting quietly in recent weeks in hopes of ending a three-year standstill in peace efforts, both sides confirmed June 10.

Officials acknowledged the agenda of the recent talks has been modest, and stressed there is no breakthrough in sight. Nonethe-less, the revelations gave a small sign of hope that a formula can be found to restart formal negotiations addressing core issues.

Peace talks broke down in December 2008, and have remained frozen. The Palestinians say they will not resume negotiations until Israel halts settlement construction in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, and they also want Israel to accept its pre-1967 boundaries as the basis of a final border. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says talks should restart without preconditions.

Palestinian officials said their chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and Netanyahu’s envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, have been meeting on a regular basis in hopes of finding a formula for restarting talks. Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have not met since a short-lived attempt to relaunch negotiations in late 2010.

An Israeli official confirmed there have been “ongoing contacts at different levels.” He said Israel is always ready to consider goodwill gestures. He cited Israeli concessions that ended a hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners last month, and the recent return of the remains of dozens of dead Palestinian militants to their families. — ap