Wednesday, October 23, 2002

U.S. Envoy Arrives in Jerusalem for Mideast Talks
Israel and the Palestinians expressed reservations Wednesday about a new U.S. peace plan, as Washington launched its most ambitious mediation mission in months with the arrival of a senior envoy in the region.

The mediator, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, was to hold talks with Israelis and Palestinians on Wednesday and Thursday about the three-stage plan, a blueprint for Palestinian statehood by 2005.

Both sides said the plan, which also has the backing of the United Nations, Russia and the European Union, is too vague on crucial points. The plan has not been made public, though officials have revealed some details.

Israel said it would be required to withdraw troops from parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the first stage, without guarantees that the Palestinian security forces would do more to prevent attacks on Israelis.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians need stronger U.S. guarantees regarding the timetable and implementation, including international monitors.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, said they expected an Israeli pullout from most of the West Bank town of Hebron after security talks set for later Wednesday. Gissin said Israel would pull out when it was satisfied that Palestinian police will take over security duties.

In Israel, a government coalition crisis was brewing over the dismantling of Israeli settlement outposts in the West Bank by Israeli troops. Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said he would pull his moderate Labor party out of the government unless Sharon reins in far-right Cabinet Minister Effie Eitam, a settler patron. In a Cabinet meeting this week, Eitam called Ben-Eliezer a fool, a liar and a coward for ordering troops to dismantle some of the outposts.