(photo credit: AP [file])
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says he and many of his fellow Palestinians are ready to negotiate a final, two-state agreement rather than waste time with further interim ones.
"We are ready for the end game," Erekat told diplomats, academics and NGO representatives at a conference on "The Impact of Third Party Involvement on the Peace Process" at Netanya Academic College on Thursday.
While third party involvement has had some success in economic assistance and business ventures, Erekat and Vice Premier Shimon Peres said that ultimately, it was bilateral talks that would fix relations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Third parties can offer welcome assistance such as the UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, said Peres, as well as help support diplomatic options.
However, "I am not sure that mediators right now will solve the problem; we have to do it ourselves," he said.
Erekat also said that claims in the larger Arab world that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the core of their problems was not helpful.
His shoulders, he said, could not bear such a heavy burden. Nor did it help, he said, to use the Palestinian conflict as an excuse for violence. "I don't want bombs in my name," he said.
In seeking peace with Israel, Erekat said, he was keeping the best interests of his people and his family in mind.
"I'm not doing it as a favor to you. I'm doing it for myself," he said.
He said he was 12 years old when the IDF took over his hometown of Jericho. The rest of his life had been spent under occupation, as had his children's entire lives, he said. He didn't want to see his grandchildren grow up under occupation as well, he said.
Erekat said he did not want his children or grandchildren to have a reason to lash out in hatred. "I don't want my child to be a suicide bomber," he said.
Part of the difficulty with making peace with the Palestinians was the lack of a government that was fully in control, said Peres, referring to the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas.
Peres said Israel was able to make peace with Egypt and Jordan because they had governments who could negotiate such a process.
Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said a peace deal could be reached within two years. Sneh and Defense Minister Amir Peretz came out with their own peace proposal this month.
"Two years are enough to conclude a detailed agreement," Sneh said. "We should discuss, maybe for six months, the principles, and move forward about the details of a final status agreement."
He appealed for urgent action, saying the timing was favorable because moderate Arab states wanted to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We have an opportunity, but I don't know for how long it will last," he said. "We have to do it very, very quickly."
Alexander Costy, from the office of the United Nations' Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that in the last year the humanitarian problem among the Palestinians has grown dramatically as a result of the conflict. The nature of UN financial assistance to the Palestinians has shifted from growth related programs to simple life saving and sustaining measures, Costy said. In that regard, the humanitarian money the UN has spent on the Palestinians has more than doubled since 2004 from $195 million to a request this year for $450m.
But other speakers said that Israel's restrictions on movement and access for the Palestinians, particularly at the border crossings, had made such projects impossible.
Lt.-Gen. Pietro Pistolese, who heads the European mission monitoring operations at the Egypt-Gaza border, called on Israel to do more to keep the Rafah crossing open.
Israel, citing security alerts, has kept the Rafah terminal - Gaza's gateway to Egypt - closed for about 80 percent of the time since Palestinians from Gaza kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit in June.
Depriving Gaza's 1.4 million people access to the rest of the world "only encourages more people to resort to extremism and terror," Pistolese said.
He told The Jerusalem Post that often Israel's decision to keep it closed was more related to politics than defense.
US Army Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, who arrived in the region in December 2005 with a mandate to help reform the Palestinian security forces, said his team was there for the long haul. "We are not going away anytime soon," Dayton said.
AP contributed to this report.