P. Parameswaran
Agence France Presse (AFP)
July 31, 2008 - 3:55pm

The United States, Israel and the Palestinians agreed in talks Wednesday to strive for a Middle East peace deal without any "shortcuts," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

The parties also regarded Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's announced resignation Wednesday as an internal matter that would not dampen negotiations for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, officials said.

"We will not opt for an option of partial agreements, shortcuts or anything short of a full agreement on all issues," Erekat told reporters after he and chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qorei held talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

There have been reports that Rice, who is to travel to the Middle East next month, is reportedly anxious to get the two sides to agree on a document of understanding on some key issues, such as borders for a Palestinian state and the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

Such a document was in the cards ahead of the UN General Assembly session in September, some reports suggested, amid growing pessimism about a peace breakthrough before President George W. Bush leaves the White House in January 2009.

Without citing these reports, Erekat said, "Let everybody understand that we are negotiating the issues of Jerusalem, borders, refugees, security, prisoners and water and we want to achieve an agreement on all issues or no agreement."

"And this was agreed" at the trilateral talks at the State Department on Wednesday, Erekat said.

The Israelis and Palestinians committed to forging a comprehensive deal by the end of 2008 during a conference Bush hosted in Annapolis, Maryland in November.

Rice, who has criss-crossed the Middle East since then to forge the deal, described the talks Wednesday as "very fruitful."

She acknowledged that issues hampering a resolution to the six-decade conflict "are difficult and they've always been difficult.

"There's nothing surprising in that."

The chief US diplomat said the objective to fulfill the Annapolis goals "remains the same," moving to allay any fears that a deal reached would not be comprehensive.

Rice also gave a reassurance that Olmert's decision to quit in the face of corruption probes would not affect the talks.

"This is an internal Israeli matter. We continue to be committed to the goals of Annapolis," she said after Olmert declared he would not run in September's election for leadership of his centrist Kadima party.

Olmert threw cold water this week on hopes of a quick peace deal when he said Monday that he did not think the two sides could agree on the crucial issue of Jerusalem this year.

Top Palestinian negotiator Qorei also highlighted the importance of the Jerusalem question, saying there could be no deal without its resolution.

"There's no (Palestinian) state without Jerusalem and no agreement without Jerusalem," he told reporters Tuesday.

Rice herself acknowledged difficulty in achieving a peace deal by the end of the year as targeted, but she noted growing recognition that the Palestinian question should be resolved swiftly for regional security.

"The Middle East is not going to get better without the creation of a Palestinian state to live side-by-side with Israel in peace, security and democracy," she said on Tuesday.

"It simply isn't going to get better. And so the question is, if not now, when?" she said.


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