Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview broadcast Saturday that Israel and the Palestinians may reach only a partial agreement by September, the deadline the two sides had placed for a permanent settlement.
"It's not impossible that a permanent agreement with the Palestinians won't be finished between now and September, despite Israel's willingness," Barak told Israeli public radio as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators prepared to resume negotiations in the Washington area.
"In this case, if there's not a complete agreement, there will be an almost complete agreement, in which some issues will be in place but others will be delayed to a later date," Barak said.
The Palestinians have always rejected any partial accord on the vital issues dividing the two sides, which include the status of Jerusalem and the borders of a future Palestinian state, Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories and the question of refugees.
The prime minister, who has promised to hold a referendum before any final peace treaty, said he would "present the peace accords which have been concluded to the people" even if they are rejected by the Israeli parliament.
Asked about parliament's preliminary vote Wednesday for dissolution and new elections, passed after members of his coalition government voted with the opposition, Barak said he was "convinced there won't be early elections".
He said he would work in the coming days to put together a coalition "similar to the previous one, or different from it."
Barak said the dynamics of the region had changed after Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon, which it occupied for 22 years, on May 24.
"What happened in Lebanon changed the Middle Eastern chessboard in such a way that there is now a chance for calm in Lebanon and the opening of new talks, in more equal conditions, on the chance of an agreement with Syria."
While emphasizing that his government is not now in contact with Syria, Barak said the two sides had "a strategic need and an exceptional occasion" to reach an agreement.
Barak reiterated Israel's insistence to keep control over the Sea of Galilee.
"We will demand that the waters be under Israel's control, in a strip around the sea that need not be large," he said in the interview, which was taped Thursday.
"The size of this strip will demand on Syria's preparedness to install on the Golan, which we will leave, stable security arrangements."
The talks with Syria broke down in January over the extent of Israel's withdrawal from the strategic Golan Heights, which it occupied in June 1967 - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
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