RAMALLAH, West Bank, (AP)- The Palestinian prime minister urged Israel to agree to a deadline for peace talks ahead of a U.S.-hosted Mideast conference, saying it was time for “bold moves” to restore the credibility of the peace process.
Salam Fayyad also said Israel should release 2,000 Palestinian prisoners before the meeting, expected in coming weeks in Annapolis, Md.
Israel has rejected demands for a timetable, and U.S. officials have also been cool to the idea. But Fayyad told The Associated Press in an interview that a deadline is essential for restoring credibility to more than a decade of failed peace efforts.
Fayyad, a pragmatist who meets frequently with Israeli leaders, said he was making headway on his plan to wrest control of the West Bank’s streets from Palestinian militants. On Friday, 300 Palestinian police were deployed in the West Bank’s most chaotic city, Nablus, as part of his gradual approach to restoring control.
Asked about recent threats by Hamas in Gaza that the Islamic militant group would one day seize control of the West Bank, Fayyad said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ security forces in the West Bank are gradually performing better.
“With each passing day, our confidence rises,” said Fayyad, who was installed as prime minister after Abbas fired the Hamas-led government in response to Hamas’ forcible takeover of Gaza in June.
“I don’t spend too much time thinking about or listening to statements made here or there,” Fayyad said. “Our goal is clear, and including of course in the run-up to achieving our national objectives, ensuring that what happened in Gaza would not happen in the West Bank,” he said. “That’s what I preoccupy myself with.”
Fayyad said Israel needs to do more now to try to restore the Palestinians’ trust in peace efforts and begin easing restrictions, such as removing major army roadblocks.
“I think we need to really begin to see some bold moves in the direction of dealing with those issues of the here and now, for the people to buy into the process,” he said. “We need to rekindle signs of hope after years of deterioration.”
Fayyad said Palestinian negotiators have asked for the release of some 2,000 of the 12,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails ahead of the Mideast conference. “We feel this is one area where a lot more can be done than has been done so far,” he said.
A key Palestinian demand is to set a deadline for a peace deal, something Israel has rejected.
Fayyad said that after more than a decade of failed peace efforts, the Palestinians need strong assurances.
“We cannot expect to go to Annapolis and be told by the international community that these are good principles, `now go back to your respective countries and mull these issues over, negotiate them, when you are done, let us know’,” he said. “Something like this, I am sure, is not really going to be seen as sufficiently credible. Some reference to that is essential, when it comes to ending (concluding) negotiations.”
Israeli officials have said Israel is committed to negotiating a peace deal, and that such an assurance should be sufficient.
“Israel is committed to reaching peace with the Palestinians and we want to achieve this in the most expedient way possible based on two states for two peoples,” David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman, said Saturday.
Asked about a possible release of prisoners and removal of checkpoints, Baker said the issues were being reviewed. “Israel is aware of the importance attached to them by the Palestinians,” he said.