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GOP senators voice doubts on Mideast plan

| Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, 9:39 p.m.

JERUSALEM — Leading Republican senators said Friday that they share Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reservations about terms for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement proposed by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Netanyahu “has serious, serious concerns about the plan as it has been presented to him,” particularly about the future security of Israel and the viability of a future independent Palestinian state, Sen. John McCain of Arizona said after meetings with Netanyahu and other officials in Israel.

McCain and fellow Senate Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Barrasso of Wyoming said they share the general alarm about Israel's security should the country withdraw from the West Bank. Without providing details of the largely secret proposals, McCain and Graham suggested that they and other supporters of Israel in Congress will greet Kerry's program skeptically.

“We feel very strongly that the peace process is very important sooner or later, and we support the legitimate peace process,” McCain said. But he expressed concern about whether some aspects of the agreement are “truly enforceable and viable options” that would not put Israel in jeopardy.

McCain and Graham met with Kerry on Friday in Jerusalem, where the secretary of state is working to win Israeli and Palestinian backing for a rough outline of a peace deal. Kerry met with Netanyahu on Friday for the second time in two days, and he met later with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Late Thursday, Israeli security forces announced the arrest of four operatives and 10 accomplices they said belong to an alleged terrorist cell based in Bethlehem. The Israelis said that during interrogations the suspects had confessed to a remote-controlled bombing on an Israeli bus in a Tel Aviv suburb Dec. 22.

The bus bombing and subsequent arrests highlight a less obvious but potentially significant challenge for Kerry separate from winning agreement from Netanyahu and Abbas. Other players who are not at the negotiating table but want to influence the outcome, including Iranian-backed and other terrorist cells in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, oppose any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and are prepared to wage a campaign of terror to stop it.

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