Palestinians for Kerry, Against Kerry

YERUSHALAYIM -

Erekat says final agreement possible within year

Palestinian leaders have been sending contradictory messages  about the role of Secretary of State John Kerry in peace negotiations with Israel.

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told reporters on Thursday that Kerry’s continuous involvement in the renewed talks have been crucial for any progress made.

“The difference this time is John Kerry. This man made a difference in terms of his relentless efforts and unwavering commitment,” Erekat said in a press conference in Beit Jala, a village near Yerushalayim.

He dismissed suggestions in the Palestinian press that the U.S. diplomat was biased in favor of Israel. “I can tell you that John Kerry is not pushing the Israeli positions,” Reuters quoted him saying.

The remark came as Erekat declared his intention to continue working beyond the late April deadline if an interim framework agreement was reached by then.

“If we reach a framework agreement by April 29, you need six to 12 months to draft a full agreement,” he said.

He indicated further that much of the talking is over. “Actually, it’s about decisions. If Netanyahu decides it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”

Netanyahu’s office had no immediate comment.

Erekat also denied reports, including from senior Abbas aides, that Kerry presented a proposal for security arrangements between earlier this month.

Erekat said Wednesday, Kerry “did not present comprehensive proposals.”

He said the Palestinians are willing to accept a gradual Israeli withdrawal from Yehudah and Shomron, but not an extended Israeli presence. “When an agreement will be signed, Israel will not withdraw the next morning from the state of Palestine,” he said.

Meanwhile, it emerged on Thursday that Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas went over Kerry’s head last week, sending a letter directly to President Barack Obama in which he, among other things, voiced reservations about Kerry’s recent proposals for security arrangements, Haaretz said, quoting Israeli and Palestinian sources.

The decision was said to reflect a “real crisis of faith” with Kerry.

In the letter, Abbas wrote that Kerry’s suggestions represented an expanded Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley — not just a minimal stationing of Israeli soldiers along the border — for the first 10 years after the signing of a peace deal. He also objected to certain benchmarks set for the Palestinians, in effect giving Israel an escape clause from the IDF withdrawal.

Erekat, on the other hand, told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that “most of what was published about this issue is a figment of journalists’ imaginations.”

Among Palestinians officials, opinion seems to be divided over Kerry’s tilt. On the other side, some Israelis involved in the talks feel that the secretary is biased toward the Palestinian position.

A spokesperson for the  National Security Council declined to comment on the correspondence.