Palestinians Want Pledge From Militants

Palestinian officials plan to get militant groups to promise next week to halt all attacks against Israel and then present the pledge to Israel with a demand for full implementation of the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, the top Palestinian negotiator said.

Israel welcomed the comments Tuesday by Saeb Erekat (searchand they were seen as the latest sign of progress in efforts by to halt three years of violence and resume full-fledged peace talks.

In a separate development, Jewish settlers proposed their own plan -- dismantling the Palestinian Authority and incorporating the West Bank (searchinto Israel. Also, the moderate opposition Labor Party is working on its own plan, a party official said, including a pullout from most of the West Bank and Gaza.

Adding to the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search), the U.S. government is planning to deduct $289.5 million from loan guarantees for Israel, reflecting the amount Israel is spending on parts of a security barrier that cut into the West Bank, as well as other Israeli construction there, U.S. officials in Washington said Tuesday.

However, Zalman Shoval, a senior foreign policy adviser to Sharon, called the U.S. decision "reasonable." He said that Israel believed no deduction should be made for the barrier, "because this is a security matter," but "Israel is prepared to give up money when the subject is defending the lives of its people."

Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have agreed to attend a conference beginning Dec. 2 in Cairo, Egypt. The groups, which have carried out scores of deadly attacks on Israelis, are expected to commit to a cease-fire at that time, Erekat said.

Whether the cease-fire can last will depend on the Israeli response, Erekat added. Stopping "violence against the Palestinians ... is the key," he said.

The road map calls for a series of steps leading to an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

Israel is required to halt settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which the Palestinians claim for their state, and withdraw from autonomous areas occupied during the fighting.

The Palestinians must dismantle the militant groups, but they have avoided such a move, saying that would risk civil war and the enforcing of quiet should be enough.

Shoval said Tuesday that a Palestinian commitment to a truce would be seen "favorably" by Israel, although he dismissed attempts to add conditions to the cease-fire.

Sharon has been under growing public pressure to halt the fighting. Last week, he said he plans a series of "unilateral" steps if peace talks break down. According to media reports, these steps might include dismantling some isolated Jewish settlements and Israel drawing its own border with the Palestinians.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat questioned Sharon's commitment to the road map. Speaking after morning prayers to mark the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, Arafat said the Palestinians remain committed to the plan.

"Unfortunately, the other side did not agree to the road map," he said.

Erekat said Sharon's approach is not the answer.

"Peace is two sides. Peace is negotiations and agreeing between the Palestinians and Israel, not between him and himself," he said. "He needs to adopt the bilateral and stop the unilateral."

Sharon has also come under criticism from right-wing Israelis, a core constituency of the former general.

Jewish settlers announced Tuesday that they are working on their own plan to counter the possibility of handing the Palestinians control of any land in the West Bank.

Elyakim Haetzni, a leading settler activist, told The Associated Press that the plan would include the elimination of the Palestinian Authority established in 1994 and its replacement by a series of self-administered "regional authorities." Haetzni said Israel would annex the West Bank, while Palestinians living there would have citizenship -- and presumably voting rights -- in neighboring Jordan.

But the Jerusalem Post Web site said the plan, which is not yet final, would instead offer the Palestinians Israeli citizenship, effectively creating a binational state -- and that it would also include a system to ensure that the prime minister would always be a Jew.

The Labor Party peace plan would include an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank, a party official said Tuesday. The plan is based on the long-held Labor principle that Israel must have a solid Jewish majority.

In violence Tuesday, Palestinian gunmen shot and killed the younger brother of Nablus mayor Bassam Shaka, Palestinian security officials said. The reason for the attack was not known, but Shaka has been in a struggle with armed bands in the Askar refugee camp next to Nablus. Witnesses said the mayor might have been the target.