RAMALLAH, West Bank – A senior Palestinian official on Monday railed against U.S. attempts to broker a broad outline of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, saying Secretary of State John Kerry is breaking a promise to try to negotiate a final agreement in the current round of talks.
The Palestinian leadership is concerned that such a framework deal will accommodate very specific Israeli security demands, while offering only vague promises to the Palestinians, said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide to President Mahmoud Abbas.
"This contradicts completely what we were promised by the American secretary of state at the beginning of this peace process ... to avoid any partial or interim agreements," he told the Voice of Palestine radio station.
Both Kerry and President Barack Obama said over the weekend that the U.S. is pursuing a framework agreement, but did not provide details. Obama said it's possible to reach such an outline over the next few months.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that the U.S. is not focused on an interim deal, but is focused on a final deal. She also said that there will be a process for getting to a final deal, but did not elaborate.
She said Obama and Kerry both referred last weekend to a "framework."
"I think some thought — took that to mean interim," Psaki said. "It does not mean interim. We still remain focused on a final status agreement."
Security arrangements between Israel and a future Palestine would be central to such a framework. Kerry has argued that progress in negotiations is only possible if Israeli security concerns are addressed first.
Last week, Kerry presented a new U.S. security plan to Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including arrangements for the border between Jordan and a state of Palestine.
Under the plan, Israel would have final say at that border for at least 10 years and would also have a military presence in the strip of land next to it, the West Bank's Jordan Valley, according to two Palestinian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details of the negotiations.
Israeli officials have said they fear militants and weapons could be smuggled into a future Palestine if Israel gives up control over the West Bank-Jordan border. Abbas has said he is willing to accept an international presence there, but not Israeli forces.
Psaki said that Kerry met on Monday in Washington with Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. She also announced that Kerry would be leaving Washington on Wednesday to return to the region for more talks with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Abbas in Ramallah.
The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967, but are willing to accept minor land swaps in drawing the final border to accommodate some of the settlements Israel has built on war-won land.
Netanyahu has refused to commit to what the Palestinians and most of the international community considers a basic ground rule — that border negotiations use the 1967 lines as a starting point.
The two Palestinian officials who were briefed on the Kerry-Abbas meeting said the secretary is aiming for a framework agreement by the end of January.
Obama, meanwhile, said in his weekend remarks to a Washington think tank that neither Israel nor the Palestinians have signed on to the U.S. security plan.
"We are going to have to see whether the Israelis agree and whether President Abbas is willing to understand that this transition period requires some restraint on the part of the Palestinians as well," he said.
"They don't get everything that they want on day one," Obama said, referring to the Palestinians. "And that creates some political problems for President Abbas as well."
It's not clear what the other components of a framework deal would be, and if Kerry could obtain Netanyahu's commitment to the 1967 frontier as a baseline.
Obama noted that "we know what the outlines of a potential agreement might look like," an apparent reference to earlier parameters for a deal presented by then-President Bill Clinton more than a decade ago.
The Palestinian officials, meanwhile, said Kerry asked them to accept a change in the timetable of upcoming releases of Palestinian prisoners by Israel.
In all, Israel has agreed to release 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners in four stages during the current negotiations, which began in late July and are to conclude in April. Israel has so far released two groups of prisoners.
Kerry wants the last two releases to be combined and be carried out in late January, instead of being done in two installments, the Palestinian officials said.
Abed Rabbo did not refer to the details of Kerry's purported request, but said the Palestinians insist that the next group of prisoners be released at the end of December.
"Our brothers, the prisoners, should know that they are being used and their cause is being used for extortion, and they are the first to reject such extortion," he said.
Psaki would not comment on reports that the U.S. is pushing to delay the prisoners' release.
Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann in Washington and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Doha contributed reporting.