Albright gambles on PR battle with Israel

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED STATES Administration brought its diplomatic stand- off with Israel into the public arena yesterday in a bold and calculated move to turn up the pressure on the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and win the battle for public opinion.

Less than 24 hours before Mr Netanyahu was due to meet the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, for a make-or-break meeting on the peace process in Washington, Ms Albright gave a lecture to the National Press Club in the US capital setting out some of the US peace proposals that Israel has been so reluctant to embrace.

The lecture, arranged less than a day in advance and designed for an audience that would include all major media outlets and commentators in the US capital, represented a direct challenge to Mr Netanyahu. He had indicated he would use a private visit to the US later this week to take his case straight to the American public and lobby personally on Capitol Hill.

It was also a challenge to the influential Jewish lobby which last month persuaded 81 out of 100 Senators to sign an open letter to President Bill Clinton appealing to him not to make the terms of the latest US peace proposals public. The letter argued such tactics would bring unacceptable pressure to bear on Israel and undermine Mr Netanyahu's negotiating position. A major Jewish group yesterday requested an urgent meeting with Mr Clinton, saying it was concerned about a possible change in US Middle East policy.

Some of the details of the US proposals, including a plan to give Israel a contingency role in the security of part of the land that would revert to Palestinian rule, have gradually seeped into the public domain. Most of the specifics, though, have been kept under wraps.