JERUSALEM — There were signs on Wednesday of a new effort to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process after months of stagnation, but chances of a resumption of talks looked slim, and Israel appeared to be stepping back from the stated goal of reaching a framework agreement resolving the core issues of the conflict by September.
Instead of a final accord on Palestinian statehood by fall, Israel is now floating the idea of an interim arrangement as a step toward a two-state solution, even without Palestinian agreement.
An Israeli official said that the government was “seriously considering an initiative” that would represent a “phased approach to reaching a final peace accord.” The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the proposal because it was not finalized, added that “Israel would have preferred a negotiated agreement on final status issues, and that remains the case today. But when the Palestinians consistently refuse to negotiate, that becomes impossible.”
Direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed briefly in September but stalled later that month after a 10-month partial Israeli moratorium on construction in West Bank settlements expired. The Palestinians have declined to resume talks unless settlement activity is halted.
Israeli officials have not offered any details on the initiative, but have said that Israel is talking about it with “relevant parties,” including the Obama administration.
With the Middle East in turmoil and the West eager to encourage moderate forces in the region, Israel is under pressure to show some movement on the Palestinian issue.
Several Israeli policy makers have put forward ideas. Shaul Mofaz, a former army chief and defense minister who is now a legislator in the opposition, has been pushing his plan for a provisional Palestinian state in 60 to 65 percent of the territory of the West Bank, in addition to Gaza, without initially removing any Israeli settlements.
Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has also said that he is working on a plan for an interim arrangement involving the West Bank.
Yet the Palestinians would most likely refuse an interim arrangement involving temporary borders. They have consistently rejected such proposals since a 2003 American-backed, three-phase plan for Palestinian statehood, known as the road map, never got past the first phase.
Top Palestinian negotiators could not immediately be reached for comment, but Saleh Raafat, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told the official Voice of Palestine radio on Wednesday that “the position of the P.L.O. toward this issue is unchangeable. We have strictly rejected all Israeli and non-Israeli offers that call on the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders. The P.L.O. has also affirmed its refusal of all interim and partial solutions.”
Palestinian negotiators were in Brussels on Wednesday for meetings with representatives of the so-called Quartet, the international group that deals with the Middle East peace process. The group, comprising the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, had invited both sides for separate discussions to seek a way back to negotiations ahead of a meeting of the Quartet principals scheduled later this month.
Israel declined to send its envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, to Brussels, for reasons that Israeli officials would not specify. The Israeli prime minister’s office said Wednesday that Mr. Molcho would meet with representatives of the Quartet in Israel next week.
But the chances of the two sides agreeing on terms for the resumption of negotiations looked unlikely. In addition to the demand that settlement activity be frozen, the Palestinians also want agreed terms of reference for the negotiations, chiefly that the talks will be for a Palestinian state whose borders will be based on the 1967 lines.
Israel insists on negotiations without preconditions and says the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is avoiding negotiations, not least because of his precarious position given the recent upheavals in the region and pressure from his rivals in Hamas.
Israel also argues that the future border has to be negotiated in tandem with other related issues, like security.
With the unrest in Egypt, Israel’s longest-standing peace partner in the region, many in Israel have argued that this is not the time to make bold territorial concessions. The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Israeli Parliament late last month that it was imperative “during these historical events that are unfolding before our very eyes that we understand reality properly. It requires caution and not hasty decisions.”