February 12, 1998 in Nation/World

U.S. Asks Israel To Give Up 12-15% Of West Bank Palestinian Negotiator Calls Proposal ‘Unrealistic’

Barry Schweid Associated Press

The Clinton administration, taking on an ever-larger mediation role, is now telling Israel how much West Bank territory it should relinquish to the Palestinians - between 12 and 15 percent.

But the top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, rejected the idea. “The percentages the Americans are proposing are unrealistic,” Erekat said Wednesday.

And State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said “no great progress” emerged from talks that U.S. mediator Dennis Ross held this week with Israeli and Palestinian delegations, separately Tuesday and together Wednesday.

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Edward S. Walker Jr., will try his hand at mediation with the two sides next week in Israel.

Israel has offered to turn over a little less than 10 percent of the territory to Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority on top of the 27 percent already transferred under the 1995 Oslo accord. Arafat, here last month for talks with President Clinton, said the Palestinians were entitled to 97 percent.

“We do not believe that we have closed the significant gaps that need to be closed and that the decisions that need to be made have been made,” Rubin said.

Rubin and Erekat did not say how much territory Ross proposed that Israel give up, but it was learned the recommendation was between 12 and 15 percent.

Initially, the Clinton administration shied away from taking stands on such touchy issues. Then last summer, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright began calling for a “substantial” Israeli withdrawal and a freeze on building homes for Jews on the West Bank and in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. That went nowhere.

Last month, President Clinton made a procedural proposal in an attempt to break the stalemate. He said Israel should withdraw in phases, timed to steps by the Palestinians to improve security. Albright went to the Middle East, made no headway with that scenario and arranged for Israeli and Palestinian delegations to come to Washington for meetings with Ross.

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