|Illegal Jewish settlements and Palestinian refugees remain the sticking points in Israeli-Palestinian talks [Reuters]
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has suggested that an "interim agreement" with the Palestinians could be a solution to reaching a comprehensive peace accord in the Middle East.
But the Palestinians shrugged off the idea, insisting instead on an overall agreement that would take into account the fate of refugees and the thorny issue of Jerusalem.
"There could be a situation in which talks with the Palestinians hit a brick wall over the issues of Jerusalem and the right of return [of refugees], and in that case the result would be an interim agreement," Netanyahu said in an interview on Channel 10 private television.
"If ahead of time we will tell [the Palestinians] let's [work on an interim deal] it is not certain that they will agree so easily, but it could be the outcome of a diplomatic initiative"
Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister
"It certainly is a possibility."
"But if the Palestinians accept a demilitarised state and renounce de facto to the right of return, I'll go all the way and I think that the majority of the country [Israel] will follow me."
It was the first time Netanyahu said there could be an alternative path in peace talks to the US-brokered talks that stalled after Israel refused to extend a partial West Bank building freeze on September 26.
Netanyahu said he recognised that the Palestinians would not agree to enter talks over an interim agreement but that it might be where the talks would end up.
"If ahead of time we will tell [the Palestinians] let's [work on an interim deal] it is not certain that they will agree so easily, but it could be the outcome of a diplomatic initiative," he said.
Netanyahu said in the event the Palestinians agreed to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, he would be willing to jeopardise coalition agreements to pursue a peace deal.
"If the Palestinians will recognise a Jewish state ... I tell you here and now I will go all the way with this, no coalitional consideration will stop me ... Not in reaching the agreement and not in presenting it to the people and the majority of the people will support me," he said.
Netanyahu's suggestion was brushed aside by a spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.
"For the Palestinians, any suggestion of reaching an interim agreement is unacceptable because it omits Jerusalem and the issue of refugees," Nabil Abu Rudeina, Abbas' aide, said.
talks about talks
December 2008: Palestinians suspend talks after Israel launches Gaza war. March 2010: Abbas agrees to indirect talks, then freezes them over settlements. May 2010: Indirect talks begin with a four-month timeframe.August 2010: US expected to announce resumption of direct talks.September 2010: West Bank settlement freeze scheduled to end on September 26.
"Jerusalem is a red line as it is to be the capital of a future Palestinian state ... going back to talk about a state without determining its borders is unacceptable, and it will not lead us to a true peace."
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, also dismissed Netanyahu's suggestion, saying "interim solutions are rejected part and parcel".
"It's now time for final solutions that include Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security, settlements, water and the release of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails".
In Washington, a US state department spokesman said the government was working hard to reach a peace deal.
"Our position is clear: we remain hard at work with the parties to achieve a framework agreement on all the core issues," Mark Toner, a spokesman, said in response to Netanyahu's comments.
Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the first for nearly two years, began in Washington on September 2 but stalled when a partial 10-month freeze on Israeli settlement building expired on September 26.
The Palestinians refused to resume negotiations without a new moratorium and the US admitted on December 7 that it had failed to convince Israel to renew the building curbs.
Palestinian negotiators have emphasised a set of alternatives to new talks, including seeking recognition of a Palestinian state along the borders that existed in 1967, before the Six Day War.