Palestinians ready to extend talks with Israel

The chief Palestinian peace negotiator on Wednesday said the Palestinians are ready to extend the current talks with Israel beyond an April deadline -- if there is a framework agreement in place.

The comments by Saeb Erekat marked the first time the Palestinians have endorsed the U.S. idea of seeking a preliminary -- not final -- peace deal.

Under U.S.-pressure, Israel and the Palestinians resumed negotiations last summer, agreeing to talk for nine months with the goal of a permanent peace agreement. With little progress so far, the Americans are now setting their sights on a preliminary deal.

Erekat said that based on the July 29 start of negotiations, they are to end on April 29. "We are not talking about a peace treaty on the 29th of April. We are talking about a framework agreement," he told journalists.

He described a framework deal as a comprehensive agreement that could be turned into a detailed peace treaty in six to 12 months.

Asked whether the Palestinians would continue the talks if that could be achieved, Erekat said: "Absolutely."

"If we reach a framework agreement that specifies the borders, the percentage of swaps, the security arrangements, the Jerusalem status, refugees and then that is the skeleton," he said.

Previously the Palestinians have indicated that after April, they would resume a campaign of seeking recognition at the U.N. and other international bodies in the absence of a peace deal. Israel opposes such efforts, saying they are a way to sidestep negotiations.

While the Palestinians now appear to be trying to avoid such a scenario, reaching even a framework deal on all core issues is a longshot. Israel and the Palestinians have vast differences over future borders, the status of Palestinian refugees who seek to return to lost properties in what is now Israel and the conflicting claims to Jerusalem and its sensitive holy sites.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office had no immediate comment.