Albright Rings Up Netanyahu

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has held seven telephone conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the past few days as she steps up pressure for an agreement to turn over more territory to the Palestinian Authority.

Albright also talked once to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Wednesday in her "intensive end-game negotiations" that also seek stronger Palestinian measures against terrorism, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said.

Netanyahu has been reluctant to approve a pullback of Israeli troops from an additional 13 percent of the West Bank, saying it would jeopardize Israel's security. But he indicated this week he was close to accepting the American proposal provided Arafat's Palestinian Authority fulfilled its commitments to combat terrorism.

Albright spoke to the Prime Minister four times over the weekend, twice on Tuesday and once on Wednesday, each time for a half-hour to an hour, Rubin said. "Clearly, we are in an intensified effort," he told reporters.

The spokesman cautioned, however, that "we have no knowledge that this will yield success."

But if it did, Albright hopes Israel and the Palestinians would immediately begin negotiations on an overall settlement, one that deals with the future of Jerusalem, refugees and Palestinian aspirations of statehood.

Arafat seeks a state comprising Gaza, virtually all of the West Bank and part of Jerusalem. His drive drew support Monday from the UN General Assembly as it approved, over U.S. objections, giving the Palestine Liberation Organization the status of a state but without UN voting rights.

The Palestinian Authority now controls 3 percent to 4 percent of the West Bank and shares control of 23 percent with Israel. U.S. officials have not made clear how the additional 13 percent would be administered or when it might be taken over by the Palestinians.

To overcome Netanyahu's resistance, U.S. mediator Dennis Ross has offered unspecified "refinements" while holding to the 13 percent figure despite the Israeli prime minister's concerns.

"We think it's extremely important that a decision be made and that it be made as soon as possible" Rubin said. "That is why we are working so hard on this, and that is why Secretary Albright is working so hard on it."

The spokesman cited a deadline set in past Israeli-Palestinian agreements to conclude a final settlement by next May.