Idea of Israeli-PA Pact In Two Weeks 'Far-Fetched'

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Palestinian Authority officials gave mixed responses Monday to President Clinton's Middle East peace proposals, with some saying the idea of reaching an agreement by the end of his tenure was "far-fetched."

With less than two weeks to go in office, Clinton publicly outlined in New York his strategy for bridging the chasm between Israel and the Palestinians.

A special three-way commission established last week and headed by CIA Director George Tenet, met in Cairo on Sunday in an attempt to find a mechanism for ending more than three months of violent clashes and terrorism that has claimed more than 350 lives.

Initial reports about the meeting quoted Palestinian officials as saying it had been a failure.

Clinton, who has vowed to work to narrow the gaps between Israel and the PA until the very end of his term, is sending his special envoy Dennis Ross to the region early this week to meet with both sides. But he also admitted that a deal may not be possible by January 20.

Those sentiments were echoed by Palestinian officials on Monday.

On a "personal level," Clinton really does want to conclude a deal, senior PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a telephone interview, but added: "We don't see this as a pressure."

Erekat said, however, that it was "too far-fetched" to think of reaching an agreement before the end of Clinton's term.

"These issues are too sensitive," he said. Many more details and many more maps were needed to clarify the proposals.

Another Palestinian official, Ahmed Qurei, warned on Monday that if the Palestinians were forced to accept the Clinton proposals, any deal would collapse within a few months.

Speaking in an Arabic radio interview, Qurei said that the Palestinians should in the meantime continue an "organized and orderly uprising."

He was quoted later on Monday as saying that the PA "can't accept Clinton's ideas as a basis for future negotiations or a future settlement" and accused the president for not taking into account PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's reservations about the proposals.

The ideas failed to offer the Palestinians "their legitimate rights," Qurei insisted.

In an address to the Israeli Policy Forum on Sunday, Clinton publicly shared the ideas he presented to Israel and the PA two weeks ago.

Israel accepted those proposals, with some reservations, as a basis for negotiations, provided the Palestinians also accepted them.

Clinton said there could be no resolution to the conflict without a "viable" Palestinian state occupying the entire Gaza Strip and the "vast majority" of the West Bank, which also ensured Israel's security interests.

Israeli settlements should be annexed in blocs containing a maximum number of Israelis and a minimum number of Palestinians. A solution should be found for Palestinian refugees, including compensation and homes, although not necessarily in Israel.

Regarding Jerusalem, Clinton proposed that it be "an open and undivided city, with assured freedom of access and worship for all," and containing the capitals of two states, Israel and Palestine.

What is Jewish should belong to Israel and what is Arab should belong to the Palestinians. These agreements, Clinton said, while entailing "real pain and sacrifices for both sides," should result in an end to the conflict.

The president said he believed his proposals would "serve as the basis for the solution that will come, whenever it comes," indicating that he was no longer counting on clinching a deal in the next two weeks.

Clinton said President-elect George W. Bush would not be obligated to stick to the plan which he had put forward.

Erekat said he believed the incoming administration would be just as engaged in the peace process as its predecessor, because American interests in the region would remain the same.