Netanyahu and Palestinians reportedly hold secret talks

JERUSALEM — Israeli and Palestinian officials would neither confirm nor deny a report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met at his home with two top Palestinian negotiators Saturday night in an effort to move the deadlocked peace process forward.

The reported meeting took place after the United States warned the two sides to make progress or Washington would make public its own formula, according to the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, which said that senior Palestinian officials Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, and Ahmed Karia participated in the discussions.

According to the paper, the discussions focused on efforts to reach an understanding on the second stage of an Israeli redeployment in the territories — to avoid imposition of an American bridging proposal.

"You know I don't make it a practice of disclosing whether quiet contacts took place or not," Netanyahu told Israel Radio. "With this, every effort is being made to advance the negotiations."

Israeli media also reported that Netanyahu's personal adviser, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, met with Palestinian officials Monday night in the West Bank town of Jericho.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled since last March, when Israel broke ground for a new Jewish neighborhood at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat warned last week of a renewed intifada, the 1987 to 1993 Palestinian uprising, if peace talks fail.

He also said that he would declare a Palestinian state if no final deal is reached by May 1999, when, according to the Oslo Accords, the final-status talks are slated to conclude.

In a related development, Netanyahu met Tuesday with the families of terrorist victims and told them that Israel would demand the handover of wanted Palestinians as a condition for progress in the talks.

Also on Tuesday, Knesset members belonging to the right-wing Land of Israel Front threatened to boycott a legislative session unless the government allowed construction to proceed at Har Homa.

Representatives of the bloc, who met with Netanyahu this week, said the prime minister pledged to move ahead with the project.

But Netanyahu told Israel Radio that he made no pledges and had only said he supported building in Har Homa.