World News

Palestinian PM: deal with Israel impossible in 2008

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said on Wednesday he believed it would be impossible to reach a peace deal with Israel this year.

Talks on Palestinian statehood have shown little progress since their launch at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland, in November. Washington has said it hoped for a framework deal before U.S. President George Bush leaves office in January 2009.

But Fayyad cited Israeli settlement-building in the occupied West Bank as an obstacle to progress in the negotiations.

“I have a strong feeling that is tantamount to certainty that a solution won’t be achieved this year,” Fayyad told reporters, ahead of a planned visit to the region this weekend by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Western-backed economist’s comments echoed remarks last week by Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmed Qurie, who said it would “take a miracle” to reach an agreement in 2008.

Asked about Qurie’s comments, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last week that in the turbulent Middle East “a realist is someone who believes in miracles”.

Fayyad angered Israel when he sent a letter to the European Union last month accusing the Israeli government of “flagrant disregard” of Palestinian rights by continuing to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank and refusing to remove checkpoints that hamper economic development.

Israel says it intends to keep major settlement blocs in the West Bank under any future peace deal with the Palestinians and that its network of roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank helps to prevent attacks on Israelis.

“Even if achieving a deal this year was possible, we cannot accept the continuation of settlement activity,” Fayyad told Reuters.

The talks also have been marred by violence in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and a corruption scandal that threatens to force Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from office.

Reporting by Wafa Amr and Mohammed Assadi; Editing by Alison Williams