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(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinians will only participate in the US-sponsored peace conference expected to be held next month if general agreement is first reached with Israel on all the fundamental issues, Palestinian Authority officials here said Monday.
They said that in addition to Jerusalem, the borders of the future Palestinian state and the problem of the refugees, the PA was also seeking agreement on water, security and settlements.
Meanwhile Monday evening, 16 Gazans were wounded in Khan Yunis in fighting between Hamas and Fatah gunmen. The clashes began when Hamas's Executive Force tried to arrest a Fatah man.
The officials also denied that the PA had agreed to discuss an exchange of land with Israel and limiting the number of refugees who would return to Israel proper. They said the PA's official position remained that Israel must withdraw from all the territories captured in 1967, including east Jerusalem, and that there would be no concessions on the "right of return."
PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said he was unaware of any land swap agreement. He called on the media to refrain from publishing any unofficial documents or unauthorized statements.
One official told The Jerusalem Post the Palestinians were convinced that a joint declaration of principles could be achieved before the conference.
"We're not asking for a detailed agreement, but at least let's agree on the principles of the final settlement," the official said. "We have four to six weeks to strike a deal. Let's not waste time."
According to another PA official, the Palestinians want the declaration of principles to include an Israeli commitment to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders. "As President Mahmoud Abbas stated last week, we have no intention to compromise on any of our rights," he said.
Asked why the PA, which in recent weeks had expressed reservations about the conference, was now sounding more positive, the official said: "When [US Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice was here lately, she told us that the US administration was determined to turn the conference into a successful event. She also promised to exert pressure on Israel to soften its position."
The negotiating teams will meet Wednesday, when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to host Abbas in his succa at the Prime Minister's Residence.
Contacts have already taken place, including discussions between the two leaders and between their foreign ministers, on what kind of joint document should be presented to the conference, set to take place in Annapolis, Maryland, in mid-November.
There has been no agreement on how specific the joint document should be. The Palestinians want a detailed framework agreement, while Israel wants a shorter, more general statement.
"We're negotiating with Israel, and after that there will be an agreement, which we will carry to the international conference to be blessed, adopted and endorsed, and then detailed negotiations shall begin," Abbas told reporters following closed-door talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II in Amman.
He said at least 12 Arab countries had agreed to send representatives to the conference. "There will be a very strong Arab presence at the conference," Abbas said after holding talks with Jordan's King Abdullah. "In addition, there will be some Islamic countries like Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia."
In the meeting with Abbas, Jordan's king urged Israel to take "confidence-building steps," which he said should include assisting Abbas and laying out a "specific agenda for the final status negotiations," according to a royal palace statement.
Abdullah expressed hope that the international conference would have a "practical and tangible outcome that would lead to a just settlement and set forth a new era of joint Palestinian-Israeli coexistence."
AP contributed to this report.