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Peace Talks Called Off

U.S. envoy Dennis Ross said a meeting scheduled Monday in Washington to launch Mideast peace talks would be postponed, a top Palestinian negotiator said.

"We met with Mr. Ross and he informed us that the meeting would not be held on Monday," Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian municipal affairs minister, said Sunday.

Earlier, David Bar-Illan, a top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the Israeli side had received no official word that President Clinton had decided to postpone the scheduled meeting.

The delay apparently came after Ross failed to persuade Israel to agree to a U.S.-proposed 13 percent pullback in the West Bank.

Clinton had offered to play host to a new round of Mideast talks Monday if Israel approved the U.S. plan.

Erekat said that Ross would now return to Washington for consultations with Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Before leaving, Ross was scheduled to hold a third and final meeting with Netanyahu after previous discussions failed to budge the Israeli leader from his position that the scope of the proposed withdrawal would endanger Israel's security.

Netanyahu, angered by U.S. insistence on the 13 percent withdrawal, had accused the Americans of portraying him as an obstacle to peace during a Friday meeting with Ross, the daily Maariv reported Sunday.

"You want to depict me as the one who is thwarting the peace process, and I'm not prepared to accept that," Netanyahu told Ross, according to Maariv.

"It's impossible for you to invite me to Washington under such conditions. That's public humiliation," Netanyahu reportedly added, raising his voice and even pounding on his desk during the discussion.

Bar-Illan declined to comment on the meeting or the report.

Israel has agreed to a 9 percent pullback and reports have said Netanyahu could accept up to 11 percent. The Palestinians have agreed to the U.S. plan.

In an attempt to ease the disagreement, Israel has reportedly made several bridging proposals.

One suggestion involves Israel handing over the desired amount of land while retaining full control over security in areas close to Jewish settlements.

A second calls for an Israeli withdrawal from 9 percent of the West Bank while transferring the additional 4 percent to the United States for safekeeping until the Palestinians carry out their obligations under the autonomy accord, Maariv reported.

Bar-Illan declined to be specific about the compromise proposals raised.

An adviser for Yasser Arafat, Nabil Abourdeneh, said Sunday that Israel's refusal to attend the expected meeting Monday in Washington was "an attempt to escape fulfillment of their obligations."

By Gwen Ackerman