By Maher Abukhater
3:49 PM PST, December 18, 2013
BEIT JALA, West Bank – Israel and the Palestinians should be able to reach a basic "framework agreement" for peace by the end of April and a full peace treaty within a year after that, the chief Palestinian negotiator said Wednesday.
In a generally optimistic assessment of a peace process that many see as quixotic, Saeb Erekat said a framework agreement would include a general accord on core issues, but would leave the details of implementation to a final treaty.
“April 29 is time for a framework agreement,” Erekat told foreign reporters in this West Bank town near Bethlehem. “We are not talking about a final peace treaty but only a framework agreement, which is halfway to a final treaty.”
He said the final peace treaty will come six to 12 months after signing the framework agreement, which will be implemented in stages.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry has been a frequent visitor to the region as he has attempted to nudge both sides toward an accord. However, the talks are said to be stuck on issues that include Israel's insistence on maintaining a military presence in part of the West Bank.
Erekat conceded that, even after a final treaty is signed, Israel would not pull out of the occupied territories overnight.
“When a treaty is signed,” he said, “there will be an incremental Israeli withdrawal; and when this is final, Palestine will be a sovereign state.” That suggests that the Palestinians will not accept the presence of any Israeli soldiers within the borders of a Palestinian state.
In his latest trip to the region, which ended Friday, Kerry said that the two sides were talking about a security arrangement acceptable to both.
Israel insists on keeping its forces in the Jordan Valley, but the Palestinians have said they will consider only a third-party force in their future state, not any Israeli forces.Erekat praised Kerry’s relentless efforts to bring about a peace agreement.
“This man can make the difference. He can make it happen,” he said. “What the Americans are doing is unprecedented in the last 21 years of negotiations.”
Erekat and co-negotiator Muhammad Shtayyeh resigned Nov. 5, citing Israeli measures such as the continued construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. However, at the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, they agreed to stay on until a new team is assigned.
Erekat said he has held several talks with his Israeli counterparts since his resignation.
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