Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Thursday that U.S. President George W. Bush should not convene his planned Mideast peace conference next month if Israel and the Palestinians have not achieved an agreement in advance.
Erekat was interviewed by Israel's Channel 10 TV. He said then-President Bill Clinton convened an Israeli-Palestinian summit in July 2000 that broke up without agreement, and violence erupted three months later. Lack of proper preparation for the summit is often blamed.
"Do you think President Bush will do what President Clinton did?" Erekat wondered aloud. "I really doubt the Americans will issue the invitation if decisions are not made by [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas and [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert."
The conference is tentatively set for Annapolis, Maryland, at the end of November, but Erekat noted that invitations have yet to be sent.
Erekat said the Israeli-Palestinian agreement before the conference could be two-three pages. Olmert and Abbas have met six times in recent weeks to discuss the issues. Erekat said they have come to some agreements, but he would not elaborate.
Israel has been pressing for a vaguely worded document that would gloss over the toughest issues still outstanding - borders, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.
Palestinians prefer a detailed preliminary agreement with a timetable for creating a Palestinian state, though it is not clear if they would refuse to agree to less.
Erekat, a member of the five-person Palestinian team negotiating with Israel over the document, said overall agreement is near. "I don't think we need negotiations anymore," he said. "Negotiations are over. It's time for decisions. We have never been closer to achieving the end game than we are now."
He said peace is vital for the Palestinians. "I don't want my son to be a suicide bomber," he said.
Erekat dismissed the notion that neither Olmert nor Abbas is strong enough politically to make the concessions necessary for an agreement or get the backing of their people.
"If Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas reach the agreement on the end game, they'll be the most important persons in this holy land since Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem," he said. Erekat said a peace accord would be put before the Palestinian people in a referendum.
He discounted the ability of the militant Islamic Hamas to sabotage such an accord. He admitted that Abbas' Fatah is not strong enough to retake Gaza by force after the Hamas takeover in June, but added that an end game agreement, would shut down Hamas without a shot being fired.
Meanwhile, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Thursday urged Abbas not to "fall into a trap" and make concessions to Israel at a planned peace conference which "would create grave risks for Palestinians."
The Islamist leader was speaking to some 10,000 worshippers near a mosque in the Gaza Strip before prayers to mark the Eid el-Fitr holiday after the fasting month of Ramadan.
Avigdor Lieberman: Peace talks could bring about gov't's collapseStrategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Mideast envoy Tony Blair on Thursday that any attempt to address the core issues surrounding the establishment of a Palestinian state at an upcoming U.S-hosted peace summit would "bring about the collapse of the coalition and the government in Israel."
These core issues include the permanent borders of the future Palestinian state, the question of jurisdiction over holy sites in Jerusalem, and the issue of Palestinian refugees around the world.
Lieberman met with Blair in Jerusalem Thursday, and told him that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "must include Israel's Arab citizens as well, when the basis for an agreement should be a land swap and a population transfer."
Lieberman also said that "the international community has to make a concerted effort to resolve the issues of Israel's security and the Palestinian economy."
Report: Qureia warns failed Mideast summit may spark third intifadaAlso Thursday, senior Fatah official and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia warned that if the upcoming regional peace summit does not yield results, Palestinians are likely to respond with a third, more intensified uprising, Army Radio reported.
"If the talks fail, we can expect a third and much more severe intifada," Qureia, who is also known as Abu Ala, was quoted as saying. Qureia currently heads the Palestinian negotiating team.
He warned that there would likely be heavy bloodshed in the case of failed talks at the summit, which is scheduled to take place in November in Annapolis, Maryland. The Second Intifada began shortly after the Camp David accords in 2000.
Qureia also said that despite Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' statements Wednesday demanding a full Israeli withdrawal from all lands captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, Palestinians were prepared to amend the proposed borders of their future state.
According to Qureia, Palestinians desire a state based on the 1967 borders, but are not opposed to territorial exchanges.
MI assessment: Mideast peace summit likely to failIn an assessment offered recently to the government leadership, Military Intelligence expressed doubts about the likelihood of success at the regional peace summit in Annapolis.
According to the MI's assessment, the Palestinians would like to make immediate gains at the summit, but in return will postpone or fail to carry out their commitments, primarily countering terrorist activities.
In its assessment, MI is also pessimistic about the ability of the Palestinian security forces to assume security control over the West Bank cities.
Political and defense sources who saw the MI assessment told Haaretz Wednesday that according to the intelligence analysts, Abbas will not be able to assert his control over the West Bank cities if security responsibility is passed on to his forces.
Currently, the IDF operates in Palestinian urban centers to counter terrorism, while the Palestinians are assigned policing duties.
In its report, MI also expressed concerns about the pressure the PA is applying on the United States to push Israel for more gestures of goodwill prior to the summit.
Among the requests Abbas' aides presented to U.S. officials is the release of more prisoners, the removal of road blocks, permission for the militants exiled following the Church of the Nativity siege in 2002 to return, the release of more Palestinian tax funds, and the reopening of Palestinians institutions in East Jerusalem - closed at the start of the Second Intifada in late 2000.
MI warns against "a bottomless barrel" of Israeli goodwill gestures, for which the PA will not respond in kind. According to the intelligence assessment, Abbas and his aides are not showing any signs of initiative and boldness in security matters, nor any practical ability to assume additional responsibility, even though Hamas continually challenges them.
In the Gaza Strip, MI notes, Fatah has lost all remnants of power there, as Hamas is increasingly entrenching its position.
In recent closed sessions, senior general staff sources said that the chances Fatah will return and control the Gaza Strip in this decade are few and compared it to the likelihood that "Gorbachev will return to rule Russia."
Senior Fatah officials are concerned that Hamas is planning to carry out an intifada in the West Bank, which will target them through mass demonstrations and seek to topple their control there.
Yadlin: Conference must succeed Chief of Military Intelligence Major General Amos Yadlin told the cabinet during a meeting this week that in the eyes of the PA leadership, the summit in the U.S. must succeed.
If it does not, it will lay the blame on Israel. Hamas, Yadlin added, considers the summit a negative development and will make great efforts to carry out major terrorist attacks as the summit approaches, in an effort to undermine it.
Two main scenarios are of concern to the IDF: A suicide bombing whose perpetrator will come into Israel from the West Bank; or an attempt to carry out a major attack against one of the crossing points on the border with the Gaza Strip.
In late September, an attempt to carry out a suicide bombing initiated by a Nablus-based Hamas cell was foiled after the explosive belt was found in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur.
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