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Israel's Olmert ally offers Palestinians West Bank withdrawal

A confidant of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has offered a broad West Bank pullout in talks with Palestinian leaders on a final-status peace deal, an Israeli paper reported Friday.

Haim Ramon, Israel's vice premier, met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and other officials in an effort to put together a joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration of principles that will be presented in November at a Mideast peace conference slated to be held in the U.S., the Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported.

Ramon is offering the Palestinians an Israeli withdrawal from nearly all of the West Bank, including the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, as part of a final peace deal, according to the report by two respected correspondents for the mass circulation daily.

Tzahi Moshe, a spokesman for Ramon, would not comment on the report. Palestinian Information Minister Riad Malki denied that Ramon had met with Fayyad or with any other Palestinian government officials.

According to the report's account of Ramon's offer, the border between Israel and the future Palestinian state will roughly follow the route of Israel's West Bank security barrier, leaving major Israeli settlement blocs and between 3 and 8 percent of the West Bank in Israel's hands.

In return, Israel will cede to the same amount of land inside Israel to the Palestinians to make up for the annexed territory, the report said - possibly including a land corridor between the West Bank and Gaza, long a central Palestinian demand.

Palestinians who became refugees when Israel was founded in 1948 will not be allowed into Israel, but only into the Palestinian state, and an international fund will be set up to pay for their rehabilitation. Holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City will be under the control of the various religions and no national flags will be flown, the report said.

Ramon's plan closely resembles an Israeli offer to the Palestinians at a failed peace summit in 2000. U.S. President Bill Clinton, who hosted the summit, later blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for rejecting the Israeli proposal, saying he "missed the opportunity" to create a Palestinian state. A new round of Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted not long afterward, lasting for most of the past seven years and claiming thousands of lives.

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