US Turns Up Heat on Israel to Give Land to Palestinians

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Debate over how much land - or recognition - to give Palestinian authorities has intensified, possibly leading to a showdown this weekend.

Yesterday, American envoy Dennis Ross was due to head to Israel to try to win agreement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a US proposals for a withdrawal from 13.1 percent of the West Bank. The US wants Israel to accept that figure before a critical set of talks in Washington Monday.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said she supports the eventual creation of a Palestinian state. Her comment forced US officials to claim she was not speaking for President Clinton.

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This week, at talks in London, the US appeared to take a stronger position on behalf of Palestinians in securing more land and keeping peace talks on track.

David Bar-Illan, a top Netanyahu aide, said the prime minister wants Mr. Ross "to discuss creative ideas regarding the redeployment" that have to do with the territory to be handed over and not "compensating commitments and promises" to Israel.

He was apparently referring to reports Israel was seeking a guarantee that the US would not recognize a Palestinian state. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has warned that he would declare an independent state if he and Israel do not reach an agreement by May 1999.

Under a United States plan to launch talks on the final status of territories Israel occupied in 1967, Israel would withdraw its forces from 13 percent of the West Bank in parallel with Palestinian steps to combat Muslim militants.

If Israel agrees to the US proposal, it would set the stage for a Washington meeting Monday that would launch talks on a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Interviewed by the Financial Times newspaper in London, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Netanyahu's Cabinet had to recognize that Israel would be inherently more secure if it got along with its Arab neighbors.

Mr. Netanyahu's spokesman, Shai Bazak, said contacts with the US were continuing, and it was as yet unclear whether a White House meeting would take place on Monday. "As Ms. Albright said, the meeting in Washington will take place only if there is agreement on the things on the agenda," Mr. Bazak said. "The matter is not yet clear."

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