Rice seeks 'interim' accord before Bush visits in May
Palestinians claim progress on borders, refugees

Paying yet another visit to Jerusalem this weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed optimism that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators could wrap up a draft agreement on a future Palestinian state even before President George W. Bush arrives for the 60th Anniversary celebrations in mid-May.

"I have to say I find very impressive the work that is being done and the seriousness of the process and I think it's all moving in the right direction," Rice said at a news conference on Mnday with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan at the end of her two-day visit to Israel.

The high hopes may seem misplaced, but according to Palestinian sources, the Annapolis talks over a declaration of principles to guide final-status negotiations are progressing rapidly, and already include provisions on borders and refugees.

An Israeli security analyst in contact with senior Fatah leaders in Ramallah told ICEJ News today that a draft declaration is in the works that references a return to the pre-1967 armistice lines, with minor land swaps so Israel could retain some of the larger Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank. Under this formula, however, Israel would concede its right to demand adjustments to the so-called ‘Green Line’ based on security needs, or what UN Security Council resolution 242 (1967) refers to as a withdrawal to “defensible borders.”

On the refugee issue, the Ramallah sources say Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has agreed to a symbolic ‘return’ of 100,000 Palestinian refugees to Israel proper, while PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas is insisting on entry for 250,000 refugees from Lebanon alone.

On Monday, Olmert said that while the negotiating teams were working hard to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians, he cautioned that reports of dramatic progress in negotiations were exaggerated.

News agencies today quoted a senior Israeli official as saying Rice was testing the water during her current visit to the region to see if it would be possible to present an ‘interim’ framework for a Middle East agreement “without the details” in time for President Bush's visit in May.

On Sunday, Rice vowed that the U.S. would step up its efforts to monitor Israeli implementation of promised measures to improve living conditions for the Palestinians, as well as if Israel is maintaining a freeze on settlements. "We continue to state America's position that settlement activity should stop, that its expansion should stop - that is indeed not consistent with 'road map' obligations," Rice said.

Original article: ICEJ
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