Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have agreed to start drafting elements of a proposed peace accord, the chief Palestinian negotiator said.
Ahmed Qureia, the veteran negotiator heading the Palestinian team, made it clear that the decision did not necessarily reflect agreement on major issues. But this would be the first time since negotiations resumed more than six months ago that anything would be committed to paper.
"We agreed with the Israelis to begin writing the positions," Qureia told reporters late Friday.
Israeli government officials would not comment.
Qureia did not explain why the two sides had agreed at this point to begin drafting a text.
The timing coincides with a corruption scandal in Israel that threatens to unseat Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Should Israel find itself going to early elections, polls show Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes major territorial concessions to the Palestinians, becoming Israel's next premier. However, drafting during previous rounds of peace talks has not meant always that those positions were then preserved for future negotiators.
Qureia did not say what issue the two sides would start with. If they reach agreement on any issue, then they will draft a single provision, he said. If not, they will lay out on paper their divergent views, he added.
Israel and the Palestinians resumed peace talks in late November under U.S. prodding. Continued Israeli settlement construction and Israeli security concerns have clouded negotiations, and both sides have expressed doubt about achieving the declared goal of clinching a final accord by the end of the year.
Qureia confirmed that Israeli peace negotiators have offered the Palestinians land in exchange for territory where major West Bank settlements lie, but he termed their offer "unacceptable."
Palestinians would like to incorporate all of the West Bank into a future state, but their moderate president, Mahmoud Abbas, has acknowledged that Israel, with U.S. backing, likely will hold on to blocs where tens of thousands of settlers live. In exchange, Abbas is prepared to relinquish some West Bank land for an equal amount of Israeli land.
Qureia would not say how much territory Israel offered, where it lay or how much West Bank land the Jewish state proposed to keep under a final peace accord with the Palestinians.