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Israeli official calls for quick move to final status of Palestinians

By Xinhua

Jerusalem : Israeli Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon said Friday that Israel should move quickly to begin negotiations with Palestinian National Authority (PNA) on the principles of a final status agreement, reported Israel Radio.

"I believe right now we have a partner, I don't know for how long, so we must move quickly," Ramon was quoted as saying.

He said that Israel should withdraw from most of the West Bank territories, except for large settlement blocs, suggesting that NATO forces could replace Israeli troops in the areas evacuated.

"In my eyes, the occupation of the territories threatens our very existence, our legitimacy and our international standing," Ramon said in an interview with the radio.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also made positive remarks regarding the Palestinian statehood on Wednesday, while confirming with local daily Ha'aretz that he intends to engage in negotiations with PNA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas toward an "agreement of principles" for the establishment of a Palestinian state comprised of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank.

Meanwhile, a flurry of diplomatic activities were seen in recent weeks, including international Quartet's new Middle East envoy Tony Blair's regional tour and a visit to Israel by Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and his Jordanian counterpart Abdulelah Al-Khatib on Wednesday.

During the visit, the two ministers from Arab League member states urged Israel to set "a precise and quick timetable" for negotiations on the Arab Peace Initiative which calls for Israel to receive full recognition by all Arab states in exchange for a withdrawal to the pre-1967 boundaries and an agreed solution to the refugee problem.

Blair also said on Tuesday that he saw "a sense of possibility" in the Middle East and encouraging the Israelis and the Palestinians to work at it over time.