JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Palestinian Authority he intends to accelerate negotiations the next few weeks to reach a deal on paper outlining a Palestinian state before he steps down from office next month, a top PA negotiator told WND.
“Papers are very important. It puts limits on the new prime minister. For example, the weak point of Israeli-Syrian negotiations are papers signed by former prime ministers that now must be abided during current negotiations,” said the PA negotiator, speaking to WND on condition of anonymity.
“Olmert told us his goal is to reach an agreement on paper,” the negotiator said.
He said the agreement will likely encompass understandings regarding the transfer of much of the West Bank to the Palestinians. He said he “hopes” the issue of Jerusalem is broached but that it might not be mentioned on paper beyond a declaration of agreement to negotiate further.
Sending political shockwaves through the country, Olmert yesterday announced he will resign from office after his Kadima party holds internal elections next month to choose a new leader. He said he is stepping down due to a criminal investigation, described by police officials as “serious,” in which he is accused of corruption and financial improprieties.
But Olmert officials have been telling reporters here the prime minister intends to continue negotiating with the PA as long as he remains in office.
One Olmert official told the Haaretz daily newspaper the prime minister intends to “reach an agreement with the Palestinians during the time he has left.”
“Any agreement he reaches with the Palestinians won’t be a personal agreement, and he will make sure that the (new) Kadima leadership is briefed and on board,” the official added.
For his part, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ announced he would negotiate with any Israeli leader and that Olmert’s departure shouldn’t affect negotiations started at last November’s U.S.-backed Annapolis conference, which seek to create a Palestinian state by January.
Not everyone in Olmert’s party was happy with the continued talks.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, considered a frontrunner for the Kadima leadership primary, said it would be wrong to reach agreements with the Palestinians on the core issues of the conflict while Olmert’s government is teetering.
“At this time of change in the government, we must not reach agreements on the core issues in negotiations with the Palestinians,” Mofaz said. “Anything that is decided now is very problematic, because it is happening before the change in the government and against the background of instability on the Palestinian side.”
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