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Tue 3 Jan 2012 07:55 AM

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Israelis, Palestinians to meet but prospects bleak

Meeting in Jordan is attempt to revive peace talks stalled since late 2010

Israelis, Palestinians to meet but prospects bleak
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said expections of the meeting were low

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators meet in Jordan on
Tuesday alongside international mediators trying to revive their stalled peace
talks, but neither side is raising hopes they can end more than a year of
deadlock.

Negotiations stalled in late 2010 after Israel refused to
renew
a partial freeze on Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, as
demanded by Palestinians.

The Palestinians say they cannot hold talks while Israel cements
its hold on land it captured in a 1967 war and on which they intend to
establish an independent state. Israel says peacemaking should have no
preconditions.

"The only way to reach an agreement is through
talks," Israeli cabinet minister Dan Meridor said. "There is an
opening to renew negotiations... We must hope that things will work out but it
does not depend only on us."

Palestinians were also downbeat ahead of the Amman meeting.

"We should not impose on this meeting a heavy
load," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. "I do not know if the
Israeli side is bringing anything new, or if they are willing to put their
position on the table".

The talks at the Jordanian Foreign Ministry bring together
Erekat, Israel's Yitzhak Molcho and representatives of the Quartet of Middle
East mediators - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United
Nations.

A ministry spokesman said earlier this week that the meeting
aimed at reaching common ground to allow a resumption of direct talks between
Israel the Palestinians, with the goal of reaching a peace accord by the end of
this year.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also urged both sides
to "take advantage of this opportunity.

"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 said.

But a senior figure in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's
umbrella PLO executive said Israel and the Palestinians were simply fulfilling
a request by the Quartet to present their positions on the issues of security
and borders.

"This is not a resumption of negotiations," Wasl
Abu Yossef said in Ramallah, the seat of Abbas's administration.

A diplomat in Amman also said Tuesday's meeting was not
expected to lead to a breakthrough. "To be realistic, it won't solve
anything, [although] it could give new energy" to the process, the
diplomat said.

Established a decade ago, the Quartet has in recent months
taken a leading role in attempts to broker new negotiations, stepping in after US
President Barack Obama's administration failed to revive diplomacy.

Most countries deem Israel's West Bank settlements illegal.
Israel disputes this, and says it would keep settlement blocs under any peace
deal in accordance with understandings reached in 2004 with then-US president
George W. Bush.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government also
criticises Abbas for seeking a reconciliation with the Islamists of Hamas, who
control Gaza and reject permanent co-existence with Israel. Abbas has also
balked at Israel's demand that he recognise it as a Jewish state.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called on the Palestinian
Authority to boycott Tuesday's meeting, saying it was part of a "policy of
failure".