Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested after a meeting with Vice President Al Gore Friday that he would meet the Palestinians halfway in the dispute over an Israeli troop pullback in the West Bank.
Israel's best offer until now has been a pullback from 9 percent of the land, while the Palestinians have accepted a U.S. proposal for a withdrawal from 13 percent as the absolute minimum.Netanyahu said that if Israel is to budge, he expects an "equal effort" from the Palestinians - suggesting he might settle for the halfway mark of 11 percent. Israeli officials have said in the past that Netanyahu was considering an 11 percent withdrawal.
Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were to hold separate talks Monday in London with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. U.S. officials have said they expect both leaders to make difficult decisions.
However, Netanyahu seemed ready to face down the Clinton administration, saying Friday that Israel's friendship with the United States would not stand or fall over the London meeting.
At a news conference with Netanyahu, Gore was evasive on all aspects of Mideast peacemaking. "I am not a negotiator," he said.
The vice president also reiterated Washington's "ironclad commitment" to Israel's security.
Gore is expected to run for president in 2000, and his trip to Israel - ostensibly to help celebrate Israel's jubilee - was widely seen as an effort to win the support of Jewish voters.
The Palestinians have demanded that Washington go public with its 13 percent plan as a means of exerting pressure on Israel.
Arafat Friday reaffirmed his commitment to the U.S. plan, saying he has "accepted the American initiative in all its aspects."
Gore plans to meet Arafat on Saturday in the West Bank town of Ramallah after returning from Saudi Arabia, an important Arab ally and base for about 6,000 U.S. airmen. He closes the trip Sunday in Egypt.
Earlier Friday, the vice president laid a wreath at the grave of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Gore and his wife, Tipper, stood silently for a few minutes and then placed pebbles on the black and white marble headstone, in line with Jewish custom.