Netanyahu offers to consolidate troop withdrawals Israeli soldiers would leave West Bank if Palestinians took steps against terrorism


TEL AVIV, Israel -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel proposed yesterday to carry out a single Israeli troop withdrawal in the West Bank within five months, if the Palestinians take adequate steps to fight terrorism, and to start talks immediately on a final peace settlement.

The offer was Netanyahu's first public response to growing pressure both from the United States to move peace efforts forward and from his right-wing coalition partners not to cede more land to the Palestinians. It seemed designed to balance the opposing demands.

Palestinian officials promptly dismissed the offer, calling it a trial balloon and an evasion tactic.

Speaking to newspaper editors in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu suggested that the three withdrawals of Israeli troops in the West Bank stipulated in the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian self-rule accords be combined. The pullback would increase the percentage of West Bank land under Palestinian control.

"I have proposed that all the redeployments be blended into one redeployment and that this redeployment be carried out within five months, on condition that that there be concrete Palestinian activity against terrorism," Netanyahu said.

"We'll be able to start talks on the final settlement immediately, and of course any discussion on the handover of more territory will take place in the framework of the negotiations on the final settlement," he said.

The withdrawals of Israeli troops called for in the peace accords have been delayed repeatedly since Netanyahu took office in June 1996. With the Israeli pullout from most of Hebron early this year, it was agreed that "further redeployments" would start in March 1997 and end by mid-1988.

The March withdrawal did not take place, after the Palestinians rejected a proposed Israeli pullback from less than 3 percent of the West Bank as too small. The Palestinians now have total or partial control of about 27 percent of the West Bank.

Netanyahu did not specify yesterday the size of his proposed combined withdrawal, but news reports have said that he was considering a pullback from 6 percent to 8 percent of the West Bank.

U.S. officials are reportedly pressing for a larger percentage. A Cabinet meeting on the pullout ended inconclusively Wednesday, but a decision on the proposed withdrawal is expected at a meeting planned for Sunday.

Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the Palestinian Authority had received no official Israeli offer on a withdrawal.

"If Netanyahu wants to give out test balloons to tackle his problems with the Arabs, the United States and with the rest of the international community, we tell him we will not negotiate through the media," Erakat said.

Pub Date: 11/28/97

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