JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s chief negotiator said on Thursday a Palestinian uprising could reignite if the international community piled too much pressure on the sides to paper over differences and rush into an agreement on statehood.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni sounded the cautionary note against increased U.S. pressure just days before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits the region. Rice has been pushing for a deal to cap George W. Bush’s presidency.
Livni, a frontrunner to replace Ehud Olmert as prime minister after his planned resignation next month, compared the current situation to the year 2000, when peace talks at Camp David, brokered by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton, collapsed and a deadly uprising erupted.
“I know that there are some expectations … to do something before the end of the year,” Livni said of Washington’s goal of Israel and the Palestinians reaching a statehood agreement before Bush leaves office in January.
But Livni, speaking in English to foreign reporters, cautioned against outside pressure to try to “bridge gaps that maybe it’s premature to bridge or to reach something which is not the comprehensive agreement that we want to reach”.
“The pressure, the international pressure, this can lead to clashes, this can lead to misunderstandings, this can lead to violence as we had, as we faced, after Camp David 2000 and the circumstances, in a way, are similar,” Livni said.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said pressure from world powers was needed to create the “right atmosphere” for the talks and he accused Livni of “wasting an opportunity to reach a peace agreement”.
U.S.-sponsored peace talks launched last November have shown little sign of progress and have been marred from the start by violence and disputes over Israeli settlement building.
Chances of a deal appeared to fade further when Olmert announced last month that he would step down as prime minister once his centrist Kadima party elected a new leader in September. Polls show Livni leading the race to replace the corruption-hit Olmert as Kadima chief.
In her remarks, Livni played down Washington’s timeline for a deal this year. “What is more important is the content and the nature of the understanding,” she said.
Livni said she and her Palestinian counterpart in the negotiations, former prime minister Ahmed Qurie, were going beyond “vague ideas” about the percentage of West Bank land that Israel would yield.
“We need to line the borders on the map,” she said.
Under a recent Olmert proposal, Israel would withdraw from some 92.7 percent of the occupied West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip, according to Western and Palestinian officials briefed on the negotiations.
Olmert proposed a 5.3 percent land swap, giving the Palestinians a desert territory adjacent to the Gaza Strip in exchange for West Bank land that Israel would keep.
Abbas rejected the proposal because it would not provide for a contiguous Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, a spokesman said.
Olmert’s proposed “shelf agreement” would not address the thorny issue of Jerusalem, a key Palestinian demand.
Instead, Olmert has proposed a “mechanism” for talks starting next year over the holy city. Palestinians want Arab East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.
Israel has also ruled out implementing any statehood agreement until Abbas reins in militants and re-establishes control of the Gaza Strip, which Hamas seized a year ago.