King Abdullah of Jordan discusses with Ban Ki-moon latest endeavors to realize Palestinian-Israeli peace

Jordan reiterates support for efforts targeting independent Palestinian state

Palestinian President Abbas says exploratory meetings with Israel fail

U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon was on Tuesday meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II and senior officials at the start of a Middle East peace mission to raise pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks.

The U.N. secretary general was holding discussions with Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, including about informal Israeli-Palestinian talks that Jordan hosted this month, officials said.

On Wednesday, he will hold key meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah, they said.

Direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been frozen since September 2010. The two sides had contacts in Amman this month but no breakthrough has been reported.

"My visit comes at an important moment," Ban told a news conference in New York last week when he announced the trip. "I will be there to encourage both sides to engage in earnest and create a positive atmosphere for moving forward."

Ban is also expected to meet Israeli President Shimon Peres and other top officials from both sides during his stay, U.N. officials said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton went to Jerusalem and Ramallah last week to press Netanyahu and Abbas to pursue the contacts. The United States has also been putting diplomatic pressure on the two sides, diplomats said.

The United Nations is part of the diplomatic Quartet that has been seeking to broker a Middle East peace deal, along with the European Union, Russia and the United States.

The U.N. secretary general met with the Quartet envoy, Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, at the Davos forum in Switzerland last week, a U.N. spokesman said. Blair is believed to be back in Jerusalem.

The Palestinians ended direct talks in 2010 in protest at Israel's refusal to extend a moratorium on settlement building in the occupied territories.

While the international powers have all condemned Israel's heightened settlement drive, the deadlock has also been increased by the Palestinians' bid to gain international recognition elsewhere, including with an application for full U.N. membership.

Palestinian and Israeli negotiators held five rounds of exploratory talks in Amman this month on whether there is a route back to direct negotiations.

On Monday, the Palestine Liberation Organization blamed Israel for "the failure" of the preliminary talks.

"In light of the results of the Amman meetings, the PLO executive committee considers the Israeli government and it alone to be entirely responsible for their failure," Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestinian umbrella organization, said in a statement.

"These meetings revealed Israel's insistence to continue settlement activities and its refusal of a two-state solution on the basis of 1967 borders," the statement said.

Abbas has been consulting with Palestinian leaders. He said he will also hold contacts with an Arab League committee on the Middle East conflict before deciding his next move.

"There are pressures from many sides, prodding them to return to talks. But there are also elements from many sides -- including events in Syria -- which are holding them back," one official close to the Quartet contacts with the Israelis and Palestinians told AFP.

Asked on Sunday about the prospects of renewed peace talks, the Israeli prime minister said: "The signs are not particularly propitious." Israel says however that the Amman meetings should continue.

The diplomatic Quartet called on October 26 for both sides to present comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months, as a first step towards resuming direct talks.

Diplomats said the Quartet's main concern now is to make sure the unofficial contacts do not end.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Sunday blamed each other for the impasse in newly launched peace efforts, raising doubts about whether the dialogue would continue just weeks after it began.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of spoiling the low-level talks, saying it failed to present detailed proposals for borders and security requested by international mediators. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians "refused to even discuss" Israeli security needs.

For the past month, the sides have held Jordanian-mediated exploratory talks at the urging of the Quartet of international Mideast mediators — the U.S., the U.N., the E.U. and Russia.

The goal of the talks has been to find a formula to resume formal peace negotiations, with the aim of forging an agreement this year.

The Palestinians say a three-month period set by the Quartet for the exploratory talks ended last week, counting from the day the mediators issued their marching orders last October.

But Abbas, deeply skeptical about the hard-line Netanyahu, is under intense international pressure to stay at the table and would risk being blamed for the failure of the latest Mideast peace efforts.

Walking away would be a risky strategy at a time when he seeks global recognition of a state of Palestine ahead of a possible border deal with Israel. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon is expected in the region this week to help keep the talks alive.

Abbas said Israel's efforts so far have fallen short.

"By not presenting a clear vision on the issues of borders and security, as the Quartet demanded, Israel foiled the exploratory talks in Amman," Abbas said in remarks published late Saturday by the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Israel has said it wants to keep talking and is serious about reaching a deal by year's end. It says the exploratory talks should continue for another two months, starting its countdown of the Quartet's three-month period from the beginning of meetings in early January.

Addressing his Cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said the dialogue had gotten off to a rocky start, but held out hope the talks would continue.

"Until this moment, according to what happened in recent days, the Palestinians refused to even discuss with us the needs of Israel's security," he said. "The signs are not very good, but I hope they will come to their senses and we'll continue the talks so we can reach real negotiations."

The Quartet had asked both sides to present detailed proposals on borders and security arrangements between Israel and a future Palestinian state, in hopes the exploratory talks would evolve into full negotiations.

The Palestinians said they presented four-page proposals on each subject, but refused to elaborate. Earlier this week, Israel presented its principles for drawing a border with a future state of Palestine — the first-ever indication by Netanyahu on how much war-won land he would be willing to relinquish.

Abbas said he remains committed to serious negotiations that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital.

The Palestinians want to establish their state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

The Palestinians, who regained control of Gaza in 2005, have said they are willing to swap some land to enable Israel to keep some of the largest of dozens of settlements it has built on occupied lands.

In talks with Netanyahu's predecessor, the Palestinians suggested swapping 1.9 percent of the West Bank, while Israel proposed 6.5 percent.

Two Palestinian officials said last week that Israel proposed keeping control of east Jerusalem and essentially turning its West Bank separation barrier into the border. That would place attach roughly 10 percent of the West Bank to Israel.

Israeli officials have declined comment.

However, it is unlikely Abbas would accept any deal that leaves east Jerusalem under Israeli control and gives him only 90 percent of the West Bank.

Abbas consulted Sunday with his Fatah movement and was to talk Monday with top officials in the Palestine Liberation Organization. Abbas said he would make his final decision after briefing the Arab League at the end of the week.

In a statement after the Fatah meeting late Sunday, Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said a return to direct talks requires, among other things, a halt in Israeli settlement construction, but that a final decision on resuming exploratory talks would come only after more consultations.

Western diplomats said Quartet envoy Tony Blair will try in coming days to persuade Netanyahu to agree to incentives to salvage the talks, including the release of veteran Palestinian prisoners.

Mahmoud Aloul, a senior Fatah official, said Sunday that Fatah would likely urge Abbas to end the talks.

"There is no hope ... that these talks or any talks with this right-wing Israeli government would lead to any progress," Aloul said.