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World - Middle East

White House: Israel won't accept U.S. pullback proposal

graphic July 23, 1998
Web posted at: 10:49 a.m. EDT (1049 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Clinton administration has told Palestinian negotiators it sees no chance that Israel will accept a U.S. peace proposal for a further pullback in the West Bank, and the administration is urging the Palestinians to get the best deal they can in direct negotiations, White House officials confirmed to CNN on Thursday.

The officials rejected the notion this was a major departure in U.S. policy, but acknowledged deep disappointment that Israel has not been more open to making concessions.

In May, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright voiced frustration with what many administration officials view as intransigence by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

State Department officials signaled that Albright was ready to take the unusual step of publicly detailing the U.S. peace proposal and declaring that the administration was stepping back from its intense involvement in the peace process because Israel was refusing to negotiate.


Administration steps away from process

Israel has continually refused to accept the U.S. proposal that it quickly transfer an additional 13 percent of its West Bank territory to the Palestinians.

White House officials noted that the administration was rejecting Israeli requests to send special envoy Dennis Ross back to the region -- proof, the officials said, that the administration was keeping its pledge to step back from the process if Israel did not make concessions.

White House press secretary Mike McCurry on Thursday publicly urged the parties to "try harder."

The officials said they knew of no plans for Albright to deliver detailed public criticism of Israel, but they acknowledged she has been more willing to take a confrontational approach than many other administration officials.

One White House official said: "I don't think we have abandoned that strategy ... I just don't think we have come to that conclusion yet."

A public confrontation with Israel?

Albright's public pressure on Israel, a steadfast U.S. ally, has provoked considerable public criticism from pro-Israel forces in the United States, as well as nervousness within the administration. The officials acknowledged that many at the White House, including Vice President Al Gore, were not as eager as Albright for a public confrontation with Israel.

Republicans have rushed to try to gain politically from the administration's rough relations with the Netanyahu government. House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently traveled to Israel to show his support for the conservative prime minister, and GOP operatives have used the dispute to try to improve Republican fund-raising in the U.S. Jewish community, a constituency better known for its support of Democrats.

Correspondent John King contributed to this report.


Struggle For Peace
B A C K G R O U N D   I    K E Y   P L A Y E R S   I   M A P S

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