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Israel, Palestinians hold ‘positive’ talks

AMMAN: Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held a “positive” first face-to-face meeting in more than 15 months on Tuesday, saying they remain committed to a two-state solution but that full-blown talks are still some way off.

“The talks and atmosphere were positive,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told reporters after the talks in Amman between Israel’s chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, his Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat and Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh.

Washington too welcomed what it described as a “positive development” after months of deadlock in peace talks over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal in 2010 to renew a freeze on most settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

Judeh, who hosted the meeting in the Jordanian capital, voiced cautious optimism. “The two sides expressed their commitment to a two-state solution. We do not want to raise the level of expectations, but at the same time we do not want to minimise the importance of this meeting,” he said.

“The Palestinians submitted a paper on borders and security. The Israeli side received it, promising to study it and respond,” he said.

The minister said Jordan, which has a 1994 peace treaty with Israel, will host further talks between the two sides.

“Any announcement about the meetings will be made by Jordan. You might hear about the meetings and you might not,” he said, expecting “progress and things to be positive by the end of this month.”
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said on Tuesday the outcome of the meeting would soon be clear.

“We will know today or in the coming two days,” he said, indicating that they were looking to find “the right foundation” to resume talks with Israel.
“This is a good thing and we hope Jordanian efforts work,” he was quoted as saying by Jordan’s state-run Petra news agency.
Earlier this week, Israeli cabinet minister Dan Meridor said the fact that a meeting was taking place was “a positive development” but that it did not in itself constitute a return to direct talks.Erakat made the same point in an interview with Voice of Palestine radio.
“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 on Monday.

Direct talks ground to a halt in September 2010, when an Israeli freeze on new West Bank settlement construction expired and Netanyahu declined to renew it.

“We will see what the quartet’s position will be in this meeting and if it is willing to seriously address the obstacles to the peace process and negotiations put by Israel,” PLO secretary general Yasser Abed Rabbo told Voice of Palestine.

Abbas met with US envoy David Hale in Ramallah late on Monday and told him there would be no resumption of talks unless Israel froze settlement construction and accepted the 1967 borders as the basis for peace talks, a Palestinian official told AFP.

The Quartet, which comprises the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, has been trying to draw the two sides back to the negotiating table, asking them for comprehensive proposals on territory and security.

White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged the difficulties President Barack Obama faced in getting a resumption of talks.

“He is doing everything he can to bring them together at the table,” Carney said.

“And this is obviously a challenging issue — it has been so for a long time. But the president’s very focused on doing what he can to make it happen.”

Abed Rabbo said Washington wanted the talks to restart “without any preconditions or promises on settlement expansion.
“This does not fulfil the conditions for a resumption of negotiations nor does it enable any negotiations to succeed,” he said.
The meeting sparked an angry reaction from the Hamas movement which has controlled the Gaza Strip since ousting Abbas’s forces in 2007.
“Going to such a meeting is only betting on failure,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP on Monday.
The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also criticised the meeting, calling it a “fatal error” which would force the Palestinians back into another pointless waiting game. (AFP)

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Israeli archaeologists find ancient fortification

MIDEAST ISRAEL ANCIENT WALL

Israeli archaeologists find ancient fortification

JERUSALEM – Archaeologists digging in Jerusalem have uncovered a 3,700-year-old wall that is the oldest example of massive fortifications ever found in the city, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.

The 26-foot-high wall is believed to have been part of a protected passage built by ancient Canaanites from a hilltop fortress to a nearby spring that was the city’s only water source and vulnerable to marauders.

The discovery marks the first time archaeologists have found such massive construction from before the time of Herod, the ruler behind numerous monumental projects in the city 2,000 years ago, and shows that Jerusalem of the Middle Bronze Age had a powerful population capable of complex building projects, said Ronny Reich, director of the excavation and an archaeology professor at the University of Haifa.

The wall dates to the 17th century B.C., when Jerusalem was a small, fortified enclave controlled by the Canaanites, one of the peoples the Bible says lived in the Holy Land before the Hebrew conquest. The kingdom thought to have been ruled from Jerusalem by the biblical King David is usually dated to at least seven centuries later.

A small section of the wall was first discovered in 1909, but diggers have now exposed a 79-foot portion, and Reich believes it stretches much further. Reich said budget constraints related to the global financial crisis put an end to the excavation, at least for now.

“The wall is enormous, and that it survived 3,700 years — this is, even for us, a long time,” Reich said. It was remarkable that a fortification of this kind was not dismantled for later building projects, he said.

“When you just stand there and see it, it is amazing,” he said.

The wall and other archaeological finds at the site will be opened to the public beginning Thursday, the Antiquities Authority said.

Archaeological research at the site known as the City of David, just outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, is caught up in the struggle for control over the city. The archaeological site, one of the richest in a country full of ancient remains, is in the midst of a Palestinian neighborhood in east Jerusalem.

The City of David digs are funded by Elad, a Jewish settler organization that also buys Palestinian homes and brings Jewish families into the neighborhood. Palestinian and Israeli critics have charged that the archaeology is being used as a political tool to cement Jewish control over parts of Jerusalem that Palestinians want for the capital of a future state.

Israel captured the Arab section of Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. Unlike other areas it captured, Israel quickly annexed east Jerusalem and declared the whole city as its capital. In some rounds of failed peace talks, Israel has indicated willingness to cede Arab sections to a Palestinian state, but no agreement was reached.

The current Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken such offers off the table, and no peace negotiations are in progress now.

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