JERUSALEM (AP) – Agreement on peace is close, according to a key Palestinian negotiator, but U.S. President George W. Bush should not convene his planned Mideast peace conference next month if Israel and the Palestinians have not achieved an agreement in advance.
The negotiator, Saeb Erekat, was interviewed Thursday by Israel’s Channel 10 TV. He said then-U.S. President Bill Clinton convened an Israeli-Palestinian summit in July 2000 that broke up without agreement, and violence erupted three months later. Lack of proper preparation for the summit is often blamed.
“Do you think President Bush will do what President Clinton did?” Erekat said. “I really doubt the Americans will issue the invitation if decisions are not made by (Palestinian) President (Mahmoud) Abbas and (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert.”
The conference is tentatively set for Annapolis, Maryland, at the end of November, but Erekat noted that no invitations have been sent. He said the Israeli-Palestinian agreement before the conference could be “two-three pages.” Olmert and Abbas have met six times in recent weeks to discuss the issues. Erekat said they have come to some agreements, but he would not elaborate.
Israel has been pressing for a vaguely worded document that would gloss over the toughest issues still outstanding, borders, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. Palestinians prefer a detailed preliminary agreement with a timetable for creating a Palestinian state, though it is not clear if they would refuse to agree to less.
Erekat, a member of the five-person Palestinian team negotiating with Israel over the document, said overall agreement is near. “I don’t think we need negotiations anymore,” he said. “Negotiations are over. It’s time for decisions. We have never been closer to achieving the end game than we are now.” He said peace is vital for the Palestinians. “I don’t want my son to be a suicide bomber,” he said.
Erekat dismissed the notion that neither Olmert nor Abbas is strong enough politically to make the concessions necessary for an agreement or get the backing of their people.
“If Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas reach the agreement on the end game, they’ll be the most important persons in this holy land since Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem,” he said. Erekat said a peace accord would be put before the Palestinian people in a referendum. He discounted the ability of the militant Islamic Hamas, which violently wrested control of the Gaza Strip in June, to sabotage such an accord. He admitted that Abbas’ Fatah is not strong enough to retake Gaza by force after the Hamas takeover, but “once you produce an end game agreement, Hamas is down without firing a shot.”
On Friday, Hamas’ supreme leader, based in Damascus, Syria, said there could not be a solution to the Palestinian issue without dialogue between Hamas and the West Bank-based government loyal to Abbas.
Abbas and his allies “will find out that they are pursuing nothing but a mirage,” Khaled Mashaal told Hamas radio. “They will find out that there can be no solution without dialogue.” He accused Israel and the U.S. of taking advantage of the Palestinian rift to try to wrest concessions from the Palestinians.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she asked the Israeli ambassador for clarifications about an Israeli plan to build a road near Jerusalem, partly on confiscated Palestinian land. Palestinians charge the construction will cut them off from Jerusalem.
Rice told reporters on the way to Moscow that she has not received a reply. “I am waiting for one,” she said. Rice is due in Israel and the Palestinian areas for talks over the weekend.