Palestinian PM Worried U.S. Warming to Israeli Plan

The Palestinian prime minister said Saturday he is worried about indications the United States may come out in support of Israel's unilateral plan for pulling out of some Palestinian areas.

A group of U.S. envoys is to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) to discuss the plan next week, and Palestinians are concerned that the trip signals a move away from the stalled "road map" peace plan that the United States has championed for months.

"What I heard is that they may accept Sharon's plan. And this 'may' is irritating and worrying," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) told reporters after a Saturday Cabinet meeting.

Ahead of the U.S. visit, Giora Eiland (search), Sharon's National Security Council chief, is expected on Sunday or Monday to present the Israeli leader with a draft outline of the plan, Israel Radio reported. Under the program, Israel would withdraw soldiers and settlers from parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and impose a temporary boundary between Israel and the West Bank.

Officials in Sharon's office could not immediately be reached for comment Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Sharon first announced his "disengagement plan" in December and said he would put the program into action in the coming months if there is no progress on road map peace plan. Both sides have failed to meet the peace plan's first phase requirements since it was launched in June in hopes of ending more than three years of fighting and building a Palestinian state by 2005.

The Palestinians are critical of Sharon's threatened one-sided moves because they would leave them with much less land than they seek. The Palestinians want to establish an independent state in all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem — territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

As part of the plan, Sharon has said he would also dismantle 17 of the 21 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and some others in the West Bank.

About 7,500 Israelis currently live in Gaza in heavily fortified settlements guarded by the military amid more than 1.3 million Palestinians. The outposts are daily targets for attack by Palestinian militants, firing rockets, mortars and sometimes infiltrating the settlements on foot.

U.S. officials have welcomed the idea of dismantling settlements but are wary of unilateral moves made outside the framework of peace talks.

The visiting U.S. envoys — Elliot Abrams, Stephen Hadley and William Burns — will be looking for specifics on Sharon's ideas. They are to arrive in Israel on Wednesday and will meet with Sharon the following day, Israel Radio reported.

Sharon faces some opposition to his plan at home, including from within his own Likud Party. Challenging his critics, Sharon has said he would support a referendum on a withdrawal from Gaza. And last month Sharon assured lawmakers he would seek their approval for the new boundary with the West Bank.