Those in Washington pushing for an Israeli-Palestinian deal by the end of President Bush's term may have to scale down their expectation as the gaps between the two sides only seem to be growing larger.
A new bout of discord arose after a blowout between the Palestinian Authority's head negotiator, Ahmed Qureia, and Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni. Qureia angrily rejected a proposed map presented by Livni in which any future agreement would see Israel retaining control of the larger settlement blocs in the West Bank as well as the Jordan River Valley and Jerusalem.
Qureia grabbed the map spread out on the table and pushed it away with both hands.
The divide over the border fall-out was only further exacerbated after Qureia vehemently rebuffed comments made by Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday, in which he demanded a special security arrangement be made for a mountain ridge in Palestinian territory east of Ben Gurion Airport.
The recent turbulence indicates a permanent deal or even an agreement on certain basic principles may be even farther from reach.
'Borders most simple among core issues'
"Among the three core issues being discussed in the negotiations the borders are considered the least problematic. The matter of the Palestinian refugees and sovereignty over Jerusalem are far more complex and sensitive. This incident just clarifies how far we are from an agreement," said a senior Israeli official close to the proceedings.
Foreign Minister Livni's office said in response that "the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are not held in public. Furthermore, until everything is agreed upon, nothing is agreed. Conducting ourselves in the limelight has never contributed to achieving our goals "
A senior Palestinian official confirmed the details of the confrontation over the borders. Qureia has declined to comment on the meeting directly but the official said that the negotiator believes that talks are often fraught with anger. "Some ideas are rejected and some are accepted, some are logical and some are not," the source said.
Qureia: Barak can say whatever he wants
The most recent disagreement stems over Barak's comments during a tour of the mountain range east of the airport. "Right below us is the Ben Gurion Airport, a vital and sensitive region. We must ensure that if and when there political deals are made, we weigh in on the defense implications and the need to maintain control over security, de-facto, in the entire region," said Barak.
"Special arrangements will have to made here," he added.
Qureia said in response that Barak "can say whatever he wants, but the determining factor will be the negotiations and the outcome of the talks.
"On principle, we know what our rights are and will fight for them using all means and ways. We reject any demand, any position, or any Israeli statement regarding territory outside the 1967 borders."
A senior Palestinian official told Ynet he was unsurprised by Barak's comments. "Once he blew-up the Camp David talks and blamed it on Arafat and now he is panicking that the current negotiations may succeed. That is why he doing all this and making declarations that sour the atmosphere. Barak has taken the Labor party from the peace camp to the side of settlers and extremists. He poses an obstacle to the talks."