Netanyahu urges jump to final-status talks, eyes unity

Netanyahu said he would be willing to finalize the talks in nine months, with U.S. participation at a Camp David-style summit, with President Bill Clinton.

But Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat Wednesday rejected the plan. "We don't have enough trust that matters can be completed," Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said.

First, the Palestinians want Israel to postpone building Jewish homes at Har Homa.

The final-status issues go to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Jerusalem, borders, settlements and refugees. In contrast, it took four months of intensive talks to deal with a pullback from 80 percent of Hebron.

Under the Oslo Accords, final-status talks are supposed to conclude in May 1999. They were supposed to resume this week, but have not due to Palestinian anger over Har Homa.

To pre-empt likely Palestinian suspicion that the initiative is a ruse to avoid the second and third redeployments under the interim accords, Netanyahu included a stipulation that, if the two sides fail to reach agreement, then they would return to the current accords.

The second pullback is planned for this fall and the third by mid-1998. This month, in the first pullback, Israel agreed to yield 9 percent of the West Bank, but the Palestinians say that is insufficient.

Netanyahu proposed accelerated final-status talks during his meeting with Jordan's King Hussein in Jerusalem on Sunday, and briefed U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk.

Officials do not deny that the idea stems partly from Netanyahu's coalition problems. Seventeen right-wing Knesset members thraeatened to bolt the coalition at the time of the first pullback, and there are doubts if Netanyahu can hold the coalition together for the second withdrawal.

Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres said accelerated final-status talks could be a good idea.

Labor Knesset member Yossi Beilin, who suggested jumping to the final-status talks several months ago, said the proposal should have been made 18 months ago.

Yet Netanyahu said Wednesday that his proposal was not related to coalition politics. Israel Radio reported Wednesday that Netanyahu said the government needs broad support for this move, but not a change in its composition.