Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet put off a decision Sunday on the extent of land Israel needs to retain in the West Bank, while a military-prepared proposal claimed about half the territory for security reasons.
With Israel insisting on time to work out its ultimate demands, it seemed unlikely Netanyahu would be able to present U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright with a detailed proposal for an interim troop pullback this week.
In recent weeks, the United States has said it wants to see a proposal for the pullback - one of three promised by Israel through mid-1998 - when Netanyahu meets Albright in Paris on Thursday.
But Israel Radio on Sunday quoted U.S. envoy Martin Indyk as telling Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy that the United States now understood Israel would need time to formulate its position and that it might take until January to reach a decision. Levy’s aides could not confirm the report.
The daylong Cabinet debate Sunday ended with no decision, and the ministers were expected to reconvene today or Tuesday. Israel Radio said they were expected to tour the West Bank next week and would make a final decision only after that visit.
Netanyahu adviser David Bar-Illan told The Associated Press the prime minister would likely show Albright something short of a full pullback plan.
“He will probably be able to present to her an agreed-upon national security map which will show the areas which Israel considers vital to its security and which cannot be relinquished,” he said.
Late Saturday, Netanyahu said Israel should “not commit suicide in order to please someone. … It is the people of Israel - not the Americans or the Europeans - who have to live with (the decision).”
At issue is an expansion of the Palestinian autonomy set up in 1994. But it is assumed that areas Israel gives up now will become part of the Palestinian entity to emerge from future final status talks - which the Palestinians insist must be an independent state covering at least 90 percent of the West Bank.
The map presented Sunday by Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, however, showed Israel retaining roughly half the territory, Bar-Illan said.
In general, Israel wants to keep the Jordan River Valley, a strip along the West Bank border with Israel’s coast, the area around Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and east-west roads, he said.
The Palestinians blame the stalling of the peace process largely on Israel’s settlement expansion and its failure to move ahead with troop pullbacks.