Hossam Ezzedine
Agence France Presse (AFP)
June 9, 2008 - 4:28pm

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) Top Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qorei said Palestinian and Israeli negotiators are to start drafting a document, in remarks published Saturday on progress in US-backed peace talks.

In an interview with two Palestinian newspapers, Qorei said the two sides were discussing all the core issues of the decades-old conflict, including borders, Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees.

"We have agreed during recent meetings to begin writing down our positions and, when we talk about the land, for example, to mention all the issues that are under discussion with respect to land," the former prime minister said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and their respective negotiating teams have been holding regular meetings since the talks were formally relaunched in November.

But the two sides have remained tight-lipped about the specifics of the discussions, which have shown little visible sign of progress toward their stated goal of striking a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year.

Qorei said the two sides were still focused on reaching a "comprehensive agreement" to end the conflict and not a "declaration of principles" as the Israelis have called for in the past.

"The maps have been opened, so that there has been discussion about the issues, not discussion for its own sake," he said.

Qorei also said the talks would continue despite a corruption investigation into Olmert that has sent shockwaves through the Israeli political scene and threatened to unseat the prime minister.

"As far as we are concerned the negotiations will continue regardless of what happens internally in Israel and I have heard from the Israelis that they also want to continue the negotiations," he said.

Qorei added that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is tipped to succeed Olmert and has been leading the Israeli negotiating team, has said the talks should continue.

Israeli government spokesmen declined to comment on Qorei's statements.

But right-wing Israeli lawmakers downplayed the announcement and linked it to Olmert's political troubles.

"This is new spin to try to avoid what is unavoidable, which is early elections," Likud MP Silvan Shalom was quoted as saying by local media.

Ultra-nationalist MP Avigdor Lieberman, who left Olmert's coalition earlier this year over the talks, called the move a "manoeuvre for his political survival," adding that "the next government will not recognise this document."

Centre-left Labour MP and former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency Danny Yatom also minimised the impact of such a document.

"As long as they have not reached an agreement on Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security arrangements, settlements... this kind of document has no meaning," he said.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017