A temporal "buffer zone" — but no timeline

Haaretz today is reporting more details from the testimony given by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee yesterday.

The Haaretz story says that “Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to a new plan that skips over the first stage of the road map – eliminating terror and dismantling the settlements – according to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in his appearance before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Since the unveiling of the road map in 2002, Israel has been opposed to negotiations on a final-status agreement before the first stage of the road map was implemented. However last week the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams agreed that following the Annapolis summit scheduled for the end of the month, negotiations on a final-status arrangement would begin. The agreement states that if a final-status accord is reached, it would be subject to the implementation of the road map by the parties. Israel and the Palestinians entered an intensive stage of the negotiations on Monday in a bid to formulate a declaration to be presented at the Annapolis conference. The negotiating teams, headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmad Qureia for the Palestinian Authority, met in Jerusalem and were to meet again Tuesday. U.S. Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice will decide based on the progress of the parties whether to come to the region again next week.

The Haaretz article reports that Olmert told the Knesset committee that “time was working against the diplomatic process, and so ‘we will try to reach an understanding on all elements of the solution. But we will not have to implement anything before the fulfillment of the first stage of the road map‘, he added. Olmert said there would be a period of time, which he called a ‘buffer zone’, between the agreement and its implementation. ” ‘If stage one of the road map is implemented – if the Palestinians dismantle terror infrastructure – then and only then will Israel have to implement the agreement’.”

From the Palestinian side, however, anything that looks like a delaying tactic — while Israeli settlement policies continue to be implemented — will cause a very big problem.

The Associated Press has reported that participants in the Knesset meeting, which was a closed session, say that Olmert said: “I hope these negotiations won’t take more than a year, but we won’t be committed to any target date”.    The AP report that Olmert says the negotiations to be launched after Annapolis could last a year or more is here.

Haaretz added that “Olmert and Prime Minister Tzipi Livni appeared at different Knesset forums on Monday, and explained that the Annapolis summit would last for one day … Government sources in Jerusalem said the summit would begin on November 26, with meetings of the foreign ministers in Annapolis. That evening President George W. Bush will host Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for a dinner at the White House. The next day, Olmert and Abbas will speak at the formal opening of the conference, which would last a few hours. According to Olmert, ‘the starting point of the negotiations will be the recognition that Israel is the state of the Jewish people”. The end point of the talks, Olmert said, would be the declaration of the end of the conflict and demands. Olmert plans to bring the agreement reached at the end of the negotiations to the United Nations Security Council, the U.S. and the Quartet, to ensure the widest possible international support. Olmert also told the Knesset committee that the U.S. has not prohibited Israel from conducting talks with Syria, but rather is asking in another way that Israel avoid such talks. ‘A formula can be found for Syria to participate in the conference’, Olmert told the committee. ‘I believe that the Annapolis summit could, under certain conditions, bring about a renewal of talks with Syria when the time comes, and that is of value for Israel’.”
The Haaretz account with more details of Olmert’s testimony to a Knesset committee yesterday is here.

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