The Daily Star
March 27, 2008 - 6:47pm


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Wednesday that he expected that only a framework of a peace deal could be reached with Palestinians by the end of the year, not an actual agreement. The Israeli premier also announced that Israel would continue construction in large settlement blocs in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"There will be additional building as part of reality of life, and this fact was well explained to everyone involved," he told reporters from the foreign press.

Israel's pursuit of construction in its settlements in East Jerusalem and the  West Bank, both of which are occupied territories, is one of the major reasons why peace talks have made little progress since they were renewed at a US conference in late November.

But Olmert said Washington and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "knew from the outset that in the population centers and in Jerusalem the reality on the ground will not be the same in the future as it is today."

"The settlement issue will be the outcome of the negotiations," he said.

Israel's staunch ally Washington, along with other nations, have urged the government to refrain from settlement construction in occupied Palestinian territory.

Israel claims to have annexed East Jerusalem after it captured the city in 1967, but the international community never recognized the move and considers all Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land to be illegal.

"What we are trying to achieve is to reach a very accurate outline and definition of all basis parameters of a two-state solution," Olmert said.

"I think that the understandings about the basic parameters that will define accurately the outline of a two-state solution, such an understanding can be reached within the current presidency," he said.

The Israeli premier added: "These are not empty talks. We are very serious."

Olmert and Abbas had pledged at a US conference in late November that revived negotiations after a near seven-year hiatus to work toward a peace deal by the end of 2008.

And US President George W. Bush MBA-Presidents Sep-07 said during a visit to the Middle East earlier this year that he hoped for a signed peace treaty before he left the White House in January 2009 that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.

But negotiations have made little progress, with both sides accusing the other of neglecting their basic obligations and downplaying hopes of a peace deal by the target date.

In the Occupied West Bank town of Ramallah, Abbas acknowledged that the talks had encountered "a number of obstacles" but pledged both sides were determined to succeed.

"Negotiations with the Israeli side are continuing and are covering all the questions related to the final status [of the Palestinian territories] without exception," Abbas said at a news conference with visiting Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov.

"We are all determined to achieve results," he said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due back in the region on Friday on her second such trip in only three weeks, while a senior Palestinian official also said that Abbas has received an invitation from Bush to trav-el to Washington on April 24.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad were due to discuss security issues at a meeting on Wednesday and the Israeli media said Israel would make a gesture of goodwill toward the Palestinians. The meeting was still under way as The Daily Star went to press.

Barak and Fayyad were to discuss specifics of an agreement in principle for the deployment of Palestinian security forces in the town of Jenin in the north of the Occupied West Bank.

Keith Dayton, a US general in charge of coordinating security issues, has put forward a plan to deploy in the Palestinian territories 600 Palestinian police undergoing US-backed training in Jordan, armed forces radio reported.

In recent months, Abbas has deployed hundreds of security forces to the northern West Bank towns of Nablus and Tulkarem in a bid to improve security as part of the revived Middle East peace process.

Barak was also likely to formally announce that Israel was dropping its objections to allowing Palestinian security forces to receive 300 US vehicles, additional Kalashnikov rifles as well as rubber-coated bullets and other material, Israeli media said.

The peace talks are based on the internationally drafted 2003 "road map," which calls on Israel to freeze construction of settlements in occupied territories and on the Palestinians to improve Israel's security.

Washington has repeatedly urged both sides to respect their road map commitments, and sent US Vice President Dick Cheney to Israel and the Occupied West Bank last week to press home the message. - Agencies

More rockets hit Jewish state

GAZA CITY: Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip opened fire at an Israeli kibbutz across the border on Wednesday, lightly wounding a farmer, the armed forces said.

In another incident that threatened a tacit truce, militants in the Hamas-ruled territory also fired six rockets at southern Israel, causing damage to a building but no casualties, the army said.

The Islamic Jihad movement claimed in a statement it fired six rockets against Israel.

A second, little-known militant group called Jeish al-Umma, believed to be linked to al-Qaeda, also claimed rocket fire against the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, some 15 kilometers north of the Gaza Strip.

Islamic Jihad also said that a member of its armed wing, Mahmoud Abed Rabbo, had died on Wednesday from wounds sustained in an Israeli strike on Gaza last month.

His death brings to 359 the number of people killed since Israelis and Palestinians revived their peace talks at a US conference in November after a seven-year hiatus, according to an AFP count. Dozens of civilians, including children, have been among the dead.

At least 6,322 people have been killed since the start of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000, the vast majority of them Palestinians, according to a separate AFP tally.


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