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Israel May Link Redeployment to “timeout” on Settlements

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Israel may try to achieve an understanding with the Palestinians in which settlement building would be restricted while the sides conduct accelerated permanent-status talks, Israeli media reported Thursday.

Foreign Minister David Levy was expected to discuss further Israeli redeployments in the West Bank and a “timeout” in settlement building when he holds a meeting slated for Monday in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat’s deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Thursday he expected definitive agreements to emerge from the meetings.

“We expect a decision on the further redeployments and a recess [in settlement building]. I don’t think we will discuss anything else.”

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz, citing Western diplomats, reported that under a package deal sought by Israel, the timeout would only apply to new settlement projects that have not yet begun.

In exchange, the Palestinians would agree to forego the second and third further redeployments in the West Bank, called for under the 1995 Interim Agreement.

In turn, as negotiations continued — and if progress was being made — the Palestinians would agree not to try to put pressure on Israel in the international community.

Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky said Thursday that Israel would be willing to restrict building, or discuss the extent of further redeployments, but not both.

“We are prepared to go straight to final-status negotiations. If we know this is accepted by the Palestinian side, we are ready to discuss measures to show good will on our side,” such as a restriction on construction, Sharansky told Israel Radio.

“On the other hand, if they insist on the further redeployment, our message is that in order to start any further redeployment, the Palestinians must first destroy the terrorist infrastructure. And of course, the depth of the further redeployment would be proportionate to the depth of the trust that we build.”

Israel has pledged to withdraw troops from rural areas of the West Bank in three stages by mid-1998.

While Israel maintains that it has the right to determine the extent of the redeployments, the Palestinians say they expect to control 90 percent at the end of the withdrawals.

The Palestinians earlier this year rejected the scope of the first phase offered by Israel because it only offered them control of an additional 2 percent of West Bank land.

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