JERUSALEM: Israeli media and officials reacted skeptically on Wednesday, a day after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held their first face-to-face talks since September 2010 at a meeting in Amman.
"It’s difficult to be optimistic because (Palestinian president Mahmud) Abbas continues to insist that Israel must commit to the 1967 lines and a settlement freeze, failing which he threatens tough measures," Israeli lawmaker Benny Begin told Israeli public radio.
"Abu Mazen must say clearly that he is ready for concessions and arrangements," said Begin, using Abbas’s nom-de-guerre.
"It is very difficult to be optimistic when you know that he insists he will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state," added Begin, a minister without portfolio.
Tuesday’s talks in the Jordanian capital were the first direct discussions between the two sides for more than 15 months, and were hailed as "positive" though no breakthrough emerged.
They come in the context of efforts by the peacemaking Quartet — composed of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia — to kickstart negotiations, which ground to a halt shortly after they began in September 2010 over the issue of settlement construction.
The Palestinians say they will not hold direct talks without a freeze on Israeli settlement construction and an agreement that the lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War will form the basis for negotiations.
Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli minister and one of the initiators of the Oslo peace accords, told public radio that he was pessimistic.
"The discussions being embarked upon are in vain and doomed to failure," he said.
"The two parties may indeed continue to meet, but they don’t have the slightest chance of reaching even a minimum agreement," he added.
"The Quartet must change direction and propose an interim agreement on the borders."
None of Israel’s Hebrew-language papers carried the story on its front page.
"The meeting allows the appearance of a rare glimmer of progress, despite the absence of progress," an editorial in the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper said sardonically.
"The Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and the Quartet all expressed such low expectations that they were able to conclude that it was a ‘good and useful meeting’."
The English-language Jerusalem Post, which did make the talks front-page news, said they had taken place in a "relatively upbeat" atmosphere but noted that Abbas had warned that if Israel failed to accept his terms for negotiations, he would be forced to take "hard measures."
The top-selling Yediot Aharonot relegated its coverage to page 20, noting that "neither side expects a breakthrough, but agreed to meet next week."
The newspaper reported that "according to its representative, Israel wants (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and Abbas to engage quickly, whenever and wherever, in intensive negotiations, either secretly or publicly."
Rival daily Maariv said the goal of the Amman talks "was to try to set up a meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas — it being understood that that is the only way to make progress in the peace talks.
"Both Israel and the Palestinians are interested in a swift process with a clear timetable. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that under certain conditions, the process could last under one year," it said.