Erekat: Framework Peace Agreement Possible by April if Israel Willing

Reaching a full peace agreement will require another six to 12 months after the conclusion of the framework agreement.

Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury

The Palestinians are willing to continue negotiating with Israel beyond the April deadline originally set for the talks, if the parties can conclude a framework agreement that addresses all the core issues by then, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Wednesday.

Concluding a framework agreement is possible, if Israel wants to do so, Erekat said, during a briefing for foreign reporters in the West Bank town of Beit Jala. But, he added, it will happen only if Israel decides it prefers peace to construction in the settlements. Erekat estimated that concluding a full peace agreement would require another six to 12 months after the framework agreement was signed, since many details would remain to be worked out.

But he declined to give any details about the negotiations to date, noting that both sides had promised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to keep the proceedings confidential.

In recent weeks, Palestinian officials have repeatedly been quoted in the media assailing Kerry and accusing him of pro-Israel bias. But Erekat defended the American diplomat, saying his direct and active participation had been a key factor in the talks.

“The difference this time is John Kerry. This man made a difference in terms of his relentless efforts and unwavering commitment,” he said.

Erekat also denied reports that Kerry was pressuring the Palestinians over issues such as security arrangements or recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Kerry isn’t exerting any pressure, Erekat said, he is merely proposing ideas to both sides.

“I can tell you that John Kerry is not pushing the Israeli positions,” he declared.

But a senior Palestinian official briefed on the details of the negotiations told Haaretz he was surprised by Erekat’s positive attitude toward Kerry. He said Erekat was apparently trying to lower the flames and moderate the criticism Palestinians have aimed at Kerry over the last two weeks.

Erekat’s positive attitude disappeared when he spoke about Israel, however: He lambasted it for continued construction in the settlements, attacks on Palestinian civilians and house demolitions. Visiting the Beit Jala area after a two-month absence, he said, he can see that nearby settlements are being expanded, while reports of Palestinians being arrested and Palestinian houses being demolished are a daily occurrence. That makes it difficult for ordinary Palestinians to believe in peace negotiations with Israel, he added.

Erekat stressed that if there was no progress in the negotiations by April, the Palestinians would consider themselves free to resume promoting their cause in UN institutions. Under the deal Kerry brokered to restart the negotiations in July, the Palestinians agreed to suspend their UN campaign during the nine months allotted for the talks.

In response to a question about the death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Ereket said the Palestinian Authority was seeking the establishment of an international tribunal to investigate the circumstances of Arafat’s death and bring the guilty parties to trial, just as was done after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Palestinian Authority has long claimed that Arafat was murdered, but recent investigations conducted by Swiss, Russian and French teams did not reach a unanimous conclusion on the issue.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in Ramallah.Credit: Reuters

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