Netanyahu accuses Palestinians of retreating from deal
Web posted at: 9:35 p.m. EDT (0135 GMT)
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israelis and Palestinians blamed each other Tuesday for their failure to reach an agreement on Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.
"We were very close, very close or relatively close to moving on negotiations with the Palestinians a few days ago," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a conference on Middle East affairs. "There has been a retreat on the Palestinian side."
"Mr. Netanyahu is still stalling," retorted senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. "Mr. Netanyahu's endgame is now to insinuate that he had accepted to redeploy from 13 percent and make sure he can blame the Palestinians for saying no."
At issue is a U.S. proposal that calls for Israel to cede 13 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians, a move Israel says would threaten its security. So Netanyahu offered a compromise: Israel would withdraw from 10 percent of the land, and an additional 3 percent would be set aside as a nature preserve under Israeli security control.
Official talks on the issue have not taken place for weeks, but Ahmed Qureia, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said Tuesday that he had been talking with Yitzhak Molcho, an attorney and confidant of Netanyahu.
"There are contacts," he said, "but there is no agreement."
Netanyahu said that he had paid "a political price" with members of his own coalition in his attempts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"But it cannot be that while I am indicating my willingness to risk political concession and political attacks, the Palestinian side takes no risks, and they only address one side of the equation," he said.
Some Israelis have privately blamed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for the stall in the negotiations. They believe Mubarak advised Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat not to sign a deal now, hoping to deadlock the peace process and topple the Netanyahu government.
Erekat scoffed at the idea.
"This is all nonsense," he said. "There is one person to be blamed for the stalemate, for the deterioration of the peace process.... That is Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu."
But Netanyahu aides disagree, claiming their boss is now anxious for a deal.
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