Senior Arab officials said that Israel's unilateral decision to withdraw only from parts of the West Bank would violate international law, and would make peace in the Middle East more difficult to reach. Arab officials added that the U.S. administration's endorsement of the proposal would undermine the international road map for peace plan.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's proposed unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip and from some settlements in the West Bank has been viewed with a great deal of suspicion by Arab governments. Arab officials say the Israeli proposal to strengthen its control over other West Bank areas is, at a minimum, very controversial.

The plan is to be voted on next month by Mr. Sharon's Likud party.

Former Egyptian Foreign Minister and former Secretary General of the Arab League Esmat Abdel Meguid played a significant role in negotiating Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. He says the West Bank should belong to the Palestinians.

"This is a contradiction to all the rules of law," he said. "And, the West Bank should be back to the Palestinians, and now, Sharon is not implementing this. The road map is very clear in stating that Sharon must withdraw from the West Bank. This will be very bad, and the situation will become worse. And, in the Middle East, it is already in a very difficult situation. By this position, if it is supported by the United States, it will become worse. That's my opinion."

Following meetings Monday with President Bush, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said any Israeli pullout from occupied territories should be discussed with the Palestinians. He also said he would welcome an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, as long as the pullout is linked to the road map for peace and the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

The director of the al-Quds Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Jordan, Uraib el-Rantawi, says he believes both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are "simply posturing" for position prior to any face-to-face negotiations. He says, in the past, an exchange of territories is something both sides have agreed to during peace negotiations.

"I think both sides, Palestinians and Israelis, are trying to play their strong card before negotiations," he said. "We are not in the negotiation process. We are in a preparation process, maybe for forthcoming negotiations. Palestinians and Israelis accept a kind of solution for the final status solution in which both sides will exchange territories. The Palestinians will take some territories from Israel, in exchange of the major settlement in the West Bank. I think when both sides meet at the negotiating table, I think they can reach an agreement."

Mr. el-Rantawi, along with other senior Arab officials, said denying Palestinians the "right of return" to Israel would be illegal under international law and trigger an angry response from the Arab world.