U.S. pushing for a credible redeployment proposal

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has less than two weeks to develop what the United States calls a "credible" plan for redeploying from the West Bank.

That's the upshot of Netanyahu's two meetings with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright last weekend in Paris to discuss the faltering peace process.

Albright said she plans to meet again with Netanyahu in Europe as early as Wednesday. American officials said Albright expects at that meeting to hear details on the scope of the redeployment.

Around the same time, Albright will be meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, and although there is no three-way meeting scheduled now, the possibility exists, according to Israel Radio.

Albright, who is pressing for progress in the stalled peace process, met separately in Europe over the weekend with both Netanyahu and Arafat.

After holding what she called "useful and constructive discussions" with Arafat in Geneva on Saturday, Albright returned to Paris for a second, previously unscheduled meeting with Netanyahu.

Following the Saturday meeting, Netanyahu said, "The United States is showing understanding of Israel's security needs." The Israeli leader later convened senior ministers after returning to Israel on Sunday to discuss the principles of a redeployment in the West Bank.

Netanyahu's Cabinet approved a conditional redeployment last week, pending Palestinian agreement to begin accelerated final-status talks and to fulfill their commitments under the Oslo Accords.

But the Cabinet decision did not specify the extent of the redeployment, and a ministerial committee was set up to work out details of the pullback.

U.S. officials warned that they would not work to convince the Palestinians to accept Israel's proposal if the scope of the redeployment is too little.

Under the Interim Agreement, Israel was to carry out three redeployments in the West Bank.

The first phase was rejected in March by the Palestinians because Israel would relinquish about 2 percent of the West Bank territory. That redeployment was never implemented.

Earlier this year, media reports said Netanyahu was considering a redeployment of about 6 to 8 percent.

The Palestinians have said they expect to assume control over at least 30 percent of the territory in each of the three phases of redeployment.

Arafat, who on Sunday briefed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on his talks with Albright, was quoted as saying that he was "encouraged" by the American position and that he believed the United States would demand a "substantial" pullback by Israel.