Rory Mccarthy
The Guardian
November 15, 2007 - 6:28pm,,2211252,00.html

Palestinian negotiators want to set a timetable to secure a peace agreement with Israel within a year, according to Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official, who yesterday stressed that the bold agenda was "realistic". Abed Rabbo, a senior figure within the Palestine Liberation Organisation and a leading negotiator, said the peace conference expected to be held in Annapolis, Maryland, within a fortnight, was aiming at a renewed peace process based on a fresh approach to the US "road map" of 2003.

He said: "We know in the past that timetables have been violated and never respected, but we think some kind of timetable not exceeding one year from now is realistic."

The talks require Israel and the Palestinians to try again to implement the first phase of the "road map". Under that agreement Palestinian commitments include declaring an end to violence, arresting militant groups and rebuilding security forces; for Israel they include freezing the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, removing settlement outposts built since March 2001 and reopening Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem.

Neither side has fulfilled its commitments during the past four years.

Abed Rabbo said there was now a new impetus and that the international community would be brought in to oversee implementation by both sides. "Logically, I think that this is a historical opportunity for all the parties concerned."

In the past the "road map" commitments have been dealt with sequentially, meaning the first phase had to be completed before a final agreement could be negotiated. Now the Palestinians want to start talks on the core issues - the borders of a Palestinian state, the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees - at the same time as the first phase is being implemented.

"This sequentiality will kill both the security and the political solution and will get us into stagnation," Abed Rabbo said. "Now they understand the need to make that combination of both. The approach has changed."

But it is still by no means certain that Israel will agree. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported yesterday that Israel would promise to freeze settlement expansion in the West Bank but not in the three main settlement blocs of Ariel, Ma'ale Adumim and Gush Etzion, nor in East Jerusalem. And Palestinian security forces have already begun a crackdown in Nablus, and say similar law enforcement operations will follow elsewhere.

Abed Rabbo's optimism is not universally shared by Palestinians. "It just doesn't go with the landscape of what is going on on the ground," said Nader Said, a political analyst. He noted the "weak leadership" on each side. "Is it about reaching deals? Or is it about implementation and tangible results for the Palestinians? I don't see why Israel would give us anything."


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