Annapolis joint statement was completed with just minutes to spare
Palestinians: Rice pushed Abbas to sign document; Israeli team reportedly was split on whether to sign.
The joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration issued at Annapolis on Tuesday was completed less than half an hour beforehand, Israeli and Palestinian sources told Haaretz.
According to the Palestinian sources, yet another round of Israeli-Palestinian talks on the document broke off at midnight on Monday with no results. At that point, Saeb Erekat replaced Ahmed Qureia, the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, and the talks resumed, but still no progress was made.
The next morning, after the parties already had landed in Annapolis, the talks continued. Finally, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas out of a three-way meeting with U.S. President George Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and pressured him to approve the draft document, the sources said. Eventually, he did so, enabling Bush to read it to the conference.
The Israeli sources noted that Bush was clearly pushing for the document: At his three-way meeting with Abbas and Olmert Tuesday morning, they said, the first words out of his mouth were, "What's happening with the joint declaration?"
But the Israelis had a different version of what had happened: They said the Monday night talks with Erekat produced several agreements, but the next morning, the Palestinians changed their mind. That, said the Israelis, already had happened several times during talks on the declaration, but they were shocked that the Palestinians were doing it again at this late date and on such fundamental issues as a timetable for negotiations and reference to the road map peace plan. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who headed the Israeli team, lost her temper and told Qureia to "take it or get lost," the sources said.
As the difficulties mounted, there were also fierce arguments within the Israeli team: Livni very much wanted a joint declaration, but some members of the team said it was "a waste of time," and suggested she forget about it. Olmert, however, sided with Livni, and the Americans' determination tipped the scales.