The Palestinian Authority (PA) is ready to extend current peace talks with Israel beyond an April deadline if a detailed framework agreement is in place by then, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Wednesday, according to The Associated Press (AP).
Erekat’s comments marked the first time PA negotiators have endorsed the idea of seeking a preliminary rather than a final deal by the end of a nine-month period of negotiations to which both sides agreed at the outset.
Erekat said it is possible to reach such a framework agreement by the end of April, despite wide gaps between PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
According to AP, Erekat suggested that much ground has already been covered in previous negotiations on a final peace deal, dating back to 2000.
“Actually, it’s about decisions,” he told reporters in the town of Beit Jalla near Bethlehem. “If Netanyahu decides it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”
Erekat said that based on the July 29 start of negotiations, they are to end on April 29, but stressed, “We are not talking about a peace treaty on the 29th of April. We are talking about a framework agreement.”
He described a framework deal as more detailed than a declaration of principles and said it would have to be turned into a full peace treaty in six to 12 months.
Asked by The Associated Press if the PA would continue the talks, provided a framework deal is in place by April, Erekat said, “Absolutely, if we reach a framework agreement that specifies the borders, the percentage of swaps, the security arrangements, the Jerusalem status, refugees and then that is the skeleton.”
Peace talks restarted in July at the urging of Secretary of State John Kerry. Despite reports of a wide rift between the positions of the two sides, Kerry insisted this week that concrete progress has been made in peace talks.
Details of that progress are not known, as Kerry has said that any details will be kept under wraps. However, Kerry’s optimistic comments came two days after it was reported Abbas formally rejected Kerry’s proposals for Israel to keep troops in a future Palestinian state along the Jordan border.
A source in the PA also formally stated Abbas' position of refusing to recognize Israel as the Jewish state.
Recent reports said that the plan envisaged by Washington would see Israel maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley after a peace agreement.
An international force would be acceptable to the PA, but Israel opposes such a solution. Abbas has openly declared that a future Palestinian state will have no Jewish presence, military or civilian.
Israel has always insisted that a continued military presence on the frontier would be vital for its security for some 10-15 years after Palestinian statehood.
The PLO, the political body led by Abbas, remains adamantly opposed to anything less than the effective destruction of the State of Israel as its price for a “peace” agreement.
At recent celebrations commemorating the 26th anniversary of the start of the second Intifada, the PLO issued a statement in which it said that it would not compromise on any of its basic requirements to make a deal with Israel: A full Israeli withdrawal from all lands liberated in 1967, establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, and a full return to their original homes the families that fled Israel when it was established in 1948.