TEL AVIV – It is extremely unlikely Israel and the Palestinian Authority will reach any final understandings regarding the creation of a Palestinian state before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leaves office in February, according to a senior Palestinian negotiator speaking to WND.
The negotiator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the PA has refused Olmert’s request to reach understandings on some key issues and will postpone until a later date a final-status agreement in Jerusalem or so-called refugees.
WND previously reported Israel and the PA were quietly working to conclude a major agreement before President Bush leaves office. The agreement would seek an eventual major West Bank withdrawal and grant the PA permission to open official institutions in Jerusalem. But it would postpone talks on the future status of the capital city until new Israeli and U.S. governments are installed next year.
A top diplomatic source said at the time the PA requested that as part of the understandings, the U.S. would threaten sanctions for any new Jewish construction in the West Bank. Israel recaptured the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War. The territory, in which about 200,000 Jews live, is tied to Judaism throughout the Torah and is often referred to as the biblical heartland of Israel.
Now a senior Palestinian negotiator told WND it was “extremely unlikely” any agreement would be concluded before Bush or Olmert depart. Still, he said the PA was attempting to ensure that current talks are used as the starting point for future talks under a new U.S. and Israeli administration.
To that effect, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been collecting notes and documents from Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams to ensure the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama will not need to start negotiations here from scratch, according to informed Israeli and Palestinian sources.
Rice’s State Department is working to assemble the notes and to outline issues on which both sides are close to an agreement, according to the informed sources.
With new general Israeli elections scheduled for February, Rice’s move could limit the incoming Israeli prime minister, since the Palestinian Authority can point to notes documenting points of agreement by the current prime minister, Olmert.
While Olmert’s non-finalized decisions during negotiations are not binding for the next prime minister, documents noting agreements during previous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been used – at times as starting points – in subsequent talks.
According to both Israeli and PA sources, American officials took detailed notes of talks at U.S.-brokered negotiations at Camp David in 2000 and then used points of agreement on key issues, such as borders, during the current round of intense Israeli-Palestinian talks, which continue this week.
The understandings both sides are trying to reach are part of an original plan initiated at last November’s U.S.-sponsored Annapolis summit, which sought to create a Palestinian state, at least on paper, by January. The summit launched talks aimed at concluding a final status agreement on all core issues: borders, Jerusalem and the future of so-called Palestinian refugees.
But a final agreement has been hampered by several recent events here, most notably Olmert’s decision to resign amid corruption charges, leading to general elections scheduled for February that will see a new prime minister elected.
The candidate for office from Olmert’s Kadima party, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, is said to oppose reaching a deal on Jerusalem or “refugees” ahead of elections, fearing it will harm her prospects among center-right voters. Livni is Olmert’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians.