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Albright Urges Palestinians, Israel to Resume Direct Talks

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The United States wants to see negotiations on a further Israeli redeployment in the West Bank wrapped up in the coming weeks.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who expects the negotiations to conclude by the end of the month, is urging Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s deputy, Mahmoud Abbas.

Albright last Friday called on Israel and the Palestinians to talk directly to each other to resolve the 16-month deadlock in negotiations.

“There is a limited amount that the United States or anyone can do if the parties themselves do not talk with each other to resolve the remaining difficult issues,” she said.

Albright, who has intensified her efforts in recent weeks to get Israel to accept a U.S. plan that calls for a 13 percent further redeployment, appeared to be sending a message to the parties that the United States cannot play intermediary forever.

State Department spokesman James Rubin gave further evidence of American impatience after months of fruitless efforts by U.S. officials to bring the two sides to an agreement.

“We are clearly in the endgame. This cannot go on indefinitely,” he said last week after Albright met in Washington with a Palestinian delegation headed by negotiators Nabil Sha’ath and Saeb Erekat.

But it remains unclear whether the meeting between Mordechai and Abbas will take place.

The defense minister said in a statement that he would meet with Abbas only if Mordechai is given the authority by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach an agreement for breaking the long impasse in negotiations.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, said they would agree to the meeting only if Israel accepts a U.S. plan for a 13 percent redeployment.

The Palestinian negotiators, who say they have already made a large concession by agreeing to the 13 percent further redeployment, reportedly left the meeting with Albright feeling angered and betrayed that the United States was now asking them to consider an Israeli modification to the U.S. plan.

Netanyahu is reported to be pushing for a plan under which Israel would immediately redeploy from an additional 10 percent of the West Bank.

The remaining 3 percent would fall under nominal Palestinian control, with Israel retaining a veto over construction and planning.

There were no public statements after Albright met with Sha’ath and Erekat, but the two reportedly demanded that U.S. officials stick to their original proposal.

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