Ramon: Peace agreement unlikely in '08

Vice premier advocates 'declaration of principles' instead of full peace deal by year's end.

ramon thinks 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ramon thinks 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Officials in Jerusalem stressed on Monday that there has been no change in Israeli policy, and the aim continues to be to reach a full peace agreement with the Palestinians by the end of the year. The clarification came in response to comments made earlier in the day by Vice Premier Haim Ramon, who seemed to scale back diplomatic expectations when he told a gathering of foreign journalists that Israel hopes the two sides would reach a "declaration of principles." Ramon, considered close to the prime minister, said the target this year was not a fully detailed agreement but merely a document detailed enough to set out a program for establishing a Palestinian state over the course of two to three years. He called on both the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams to "intensify their efforts in order to reach a declaration of principles" by the end of 2008. "I believe that President Bush is expecting a declaration of principles. If it will be more detailed or less detailed is less important," Ramon said. "Nobody is expecting a detailed agreement on the first of January 2009 and [that] a Palestinian flag will be raised." The declaration of principles, Ramon said, "has to be detailed enough to implement in the years after 2008, two or three years after." Such a document would have to address the issue of disputed Jerusalem, but the level of detail would not have to be so great as to address what would happen in the contested Old City, he said. "It is the same thing about refugees, about borders," he added. Officials in the Prime Minister's Office stressed that Ramon's comments had not been coordinated in advance with the prime minister, who is currently visiting Germany. The officials said that Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams will continue to meet every couple of weeks with the aim of clinching a full peace agreement by the end of the year. But Ramon believes a declaration of principles is the best we can realistically hope for this year and views such a document as an essential stepping stone to a comprehensive peace deal. Last year Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held intensive meetings aimed at drawing up a joint declaration of principles to be presented at the Annapolis peace conference in the last week of November. AP contributed to this report.