Israel resists Palestinians on peace talks timetable

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JERUSALEM, Sep 12 (Reuters) Israel is resisting pressure from the Palestinians to set a strict timetable for implementing any statehood principles agreed at a US-sponsored conference, Israeli officials said today.

The debate over deadlines comes amid signs of progress this week in talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over the outlines of an agreement that would be presented at the conference, to be held as early as November 15.

Israeli officials said Olmert would be open to rough timelines so long as the Israeli steps are tied to reciprocal moves by the Palestinians on matters like disarming militants, as called for under the long-stalled US ''roadmap'' peace plan.

''These are negotiations and, in the end, you compromise,'' said an official close to Olmert.

Palestinian officials see timelines as a way of pressuring Israel to take difficult steps that would help them sell any agreement to the Palestinian public.

Israeli officials caution that setting dates that risk not being met only raise frustration on both sides.

Olmert and Abbas agreed on Monday to appoint negotiating teams to try to narrow differences over final-status issues like borders, the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

''There has been progress. Both sides know they need success and they need a document,'' said a senior Israeli official familiar with the deliberations.

But the official added: ''It (the conference) is one step in a very long process.'' A major sticking point, the official said, was over Abbas's call for a timeline for implementing the agreements that are reached.

''They (the Palestinians) want a tight and strict schedule for implementation. Naturally we can't commit to a tight and strict schedule,'' the official said.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official said Israel wanted any timetables to be ''performance-based''.

''A timeline that ignores performance is not effective and when you don't meet a specific target date it can only create more problems and frustration,'' the official said.

''We believe that artificial timelines have been just that. We're very much supportive of the sort of timelines in the 'roadmap', which means its a performance-based process,'' the official added.

REUTERS SG BD1602

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