'J'lem backtracking ahead of ME parley'

Palestinians say Israel has backed off idea of setting up committee to oversee first phase of road map.

saeb erekat 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
saeb erekat 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Despite Israeli officials' reports of "significant progress" in efforts to draw up a joint statement of principles for the Annapolis peace conference, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Saturday the two sides haven't progressed beyond the preamble, and many disagreements remain. Israeli sources reported that the Palestinians had agreed that any progress would be within the framework of the road map peace plan, which was dormant for four years but is now being revived. The road map stipulates that discussions on the later stages will only begin after completion of the initial stages. The two sides are trying to agree on how to implement short-term peace obligations in the first phase of the road map. Under the plan, Israel must immediately freeze settlement construction and dismantle dozens of illegal settlement outposts, while Palestinians have to disarm gunmen and round up illegal weapons. Palestinian officials said that during her latest Middle East trip last week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice secured support for setting up a committee of top Israeli, Palestinian and US officials to monitor implementation of these obligations. The Palestinian officials said Israel had since backed off the idea of the oversight committee, in which the US would be the final arbiter of disputes. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called Rice on Friday to complain, the officials said. Israeli officials denied that any such agreement on an oversight committee had been reached. The Israel and Palestinian negotiating teams will meet again this week and reportedly start work on the actual wording of the joint statement of principles. Rice is likely to visit the region again before the Annapolis gathering, which is tentatively set for November 26 and 27, although Jerusalem has still not received official confirmation from Washington. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will visit this week for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. France is due to host an international conference of donors to the Palestinian Authority which will take place after the Annapolis conference. Kouchner will also visit Lebanon during his trip to the region. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is also visiting this week but will first hold talks Sunday in Cairo with Abbas. On Monday he will also meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Solana will visit the Palestinian police training center in Jericho on Tuesday accompanied by representatives of the EU police mission, EU COPPS. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will hold separate talks with Solana on Wednesday.