JERUSALEM  - A top Israeli cabinet minister on Monday said that a planned meeting with Palestinian negotiators after a near 16-month pause was a positive step but should not be seen as renewal of negotiations.

“This is a positive development,” Intelligence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor told Israeli public radio.

“It is the first time in a long while that the Palestinians have been prepared to come and talk to us directly, without preconditions.” Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh will on Tuesday host Israel’s chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho and his Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat for talks which will also be attended by representatives of the international Quartet of peacemakers.

Meridor said the meeting, which is to take place in Amman, did not in itself constitute a return to direct talks but expressed hope it would be a springboard which would “allow the Palestinians to return to negotiations.

“We were not asked to make declarations at the preliminary talks,” he said, indicating that only in the context of actual negotiations would Israel lay out its positions. The Palestinians also stressed the same point.

“This meeting will be devoted to discussing the possibility of making a breakthrough that could lead to the resumption of negotiations,” Erakat told Voice of Palestine radio. “Therefore, it will not mark the resumption of negotiations,” he said, reiterating the Palestinian mantra that there would be no talks without a halt to settlement activity.

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

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has said he will not hold talks without a new settlement freeze and an agreement on a clear framework for talks based on the 1967 lines.

News that the sides would be meeting for the first time in more than a year sparked an angry reaction from Gaza’s Hamas rulers, who are trying to push through a reconciliation deal with Abbas’s Fatah movement.

“We demand a boycott of this meeting,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP. “Going to such a meeting is only betting on failure.”

And the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also denounced the move as a “fatal error” which would force the Palestinians back into another pointless waiting game.

“The occupation and the Quartet are the only beneficiaries from the Amman meeting that is, in fact, a negotiations meeting that drains the Palestinian national account,” the group said in a statement.

Israel’s Meridor said the push to get the sides talking after a hiatus of nearly 16 months had come from Jordan in what he described as a “positive change.”

“It wasn’t involved until now and this is its initiative. It is a change and a positive change,” he said.

“Jordan is a neighbour and we have important relations with it and I think that its involvement in any solution to the Palestinian problem is critical,” he added.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has said he will not hold talks without a freeze on settlement construction and agreement on a clear framework for talks based on the 1967 lines.