Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met secretly in Jerusalem on Tuesday, a senior Palestinian official said, a week after US-brokered peace talks were relaunched in the Holy City.
“A meeting was held today between the Palestinian delegation, headed by Saeb Erakat and Mohammad Shtayyeh, and the Israeli delegation of (Justice Minister) Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Details of the discussions were not revealed, apparently consistent with a request from Washington last week for a strict news blackout.
The official added that US Secretary of State Kerry’s special envoy Martin Indyk met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Monday to keep up pressure to continue negotiations “despite continued settlement building, which is the biggest obstacle to talks carrying on.”
Talks held last Wednesday, the fruit of months of intensive US diplomatic efforts to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table after a nearly three-year break, were held under a shroud of secrecy at an undisclosed location in Jerusalem.
Abbas said all key issues were discussed but declined to elaborate because of the agreed news blackout.
The Wednesday meetings were overshadowed, however, by a new row over Israeli settlement plans for the occupied Palestinian territories.
In the run-up to the talks, Israel announced plans to build more than 2,000 new Jewish settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, infuriating Palestinian officials.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon told reporters on a visit to the West Bank town of Ramallah that he was “deeply troubled by Israel’s continued settlement activity in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem.
“Settlement activity is deepening the Palestinian people’s mistrust in the seriousness on the Israeli side towards achieving peace.
“It will ultimately render a two-state solution impossible,” he warned.
But Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played down the settlements issue at a meeting with Ban later the same day.
“The root cause (of the conflict) was and remains the persistent refusal to recognise the Jewish state in any boundary,” he said. “It doesn’t have to do with the settlements - that’s an issue that has to be resolved, but this is not the reason that we have a continual conflict.”
Peace talks broke down just weeks after they began in September 2010 over the issue of settlement building.