BEIT JALA, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinians and Israelis will need up to one more year to complete a peace deal if they can reach a broad framework accord in the coming weeks, the chief Palestinian negotiator said on Wednesday.
Prodded by the United States, the two sides resumed direct negotiations at the end of July, giving themselves until April 2014 to reach an agreement to end their decades-old conflict.
However, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat made clear that the talking could go on for much longer, with the emphasis at the moment placed on establishing the outlines of a final accord, which would then have to be carefully defined.
“If we reach a framework agreement by April 29, you need six to 12 months to draft a full agreement,” he told reporters in Beit Jala, a West Bank village next to Jerusalem.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, making his ninth visit to the region since February, met both the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week to push the idea of a framework deal.
Erekat said this deal would need to contain specific details, such as the borders of any future Palestinian state, the percentage of land swaps to compensate for Jewish settlements built on occupied territory and the final status of Jerusalem, which both sides want as their capital.
There has been little sign over the past five months of any significant breakthrough in the talks, with Israeli and Palestinian leaders accusing each other of hindering progress.
Looking to dispel the pessimism, Kerry told reporters on Friday that he remained hopeful a deal would be reached. But speaking to his party faithful on Wednesday in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu struck a highly cautious note.
“I don’t know and I cannot promise an agreement will be achieved. I don’t know. It doesn’t only depend on us. It depends on the other side,” he said.
Erekat told reporters the talks would definitely fail if Israel continued its expansion of Jewish settlement on land seized in the 1967 war.
He said since negotiations had started in July, Israel had announced plans to build some 5,992 new housing units.
The previous round of direct talks broke down in 2010 over the issue of building settlements on territory the Palestinians want for their future state. However, Erekat said Kerry’s continuous involvement in the new discussions was helping.
“The difference this time is John Kerry. This man made a difference in terms of his relentless efforts and unwavering commitment,” he said.
He dismissed suggestions in the Palestinian press that the U.S. diplomat was biased in favor of Israel.
“I can tell you that John Kerry is not pushing the Israeli positions,” he said.
Underscoring continued tensions in the region, Israeli forces shot dead 23-year old Nafeh al-Saadi in the northern West Bank city of Jenin while conducting an arrest raid on Wednesday night. The Israeli army said forces opened fire after coming under attack in the raid.
Several other Palestinians were wounded.
Additional reporting by Ali Samoudeh, Ali Sawafat, Noah Browning and Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall