Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have held their first bilateral talks since U.S. President George Bush visited Israel and the Palestinian territories last week. VOA's Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem bureau.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Queria met at a Jerusalem hotel to discuss the core issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - borders, the status of Jerusalem, the issue of Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Queria described the talks as positive, but said the road ahead will be difficult. Aryeh Mekel the spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry says both sides want the talks to be private.

"I think that while both sides agreed these talks will not be secretive, we will try to push them away from the limelight to enable a constructive process of negotiations," he said. "They will also be intensive, these negotiations."

Before the meeting got underway, Livni said she believed previous negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians had been hurt by publicity.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he wants the talks to result in a peace treaty which will allow him to declare a Palestinian state by the end of this year. Israeli negotiators say they want the talks to result in a framework for a Palestinian state, but that no state will be possible until Palestinians can control Palestinian militants.

The talks were condemned by Hamas leaders in Gaza. The group refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence. Speaking late Sunday President Abbas criticized Hamas.

Mr. Abbas says the time has come for Hamas to return Gaza to Fatah control, saying he would be willing to talk to Hamas if the group renounced violence.

Mr. Abbas also said moving forward in talks with the Israelis will be difficult as long as Israel continues expanding its settlements on land it captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.