PLO pact is ratified by Israel Parliament gives Rabin 61-50 vote of confidence By Doug Struck

September 24, 1993|By Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- They screamed and shouted for three days, but yesterday Israel's parliament members finally approved the government's historic accord with the Palestinians, 61 to 50.

Each side was disappointed it did not muster more support. But the margin left the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin intact and allowed him to avoid calling a time-consuming national referendum.

"This is a majority," Mr. Rabin said simply, after the vote. "It gives the government freedom of action to implement" the plan for limited Palestinian autonomy.

A rejection of the plan would have been a jolting brake to preparations already picking up steam:

* Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, is planning to arrive in the West Bank town of Jericho Jan. 1, Palestinian officials said yesterday.

* The PLO opened offices in the occupied territories to recruit a Palestinian police force, and hundreds of young men lined up for the jobs.

* A public opinion poll of Palestinians showed growing support for the autonomy plan and continued negotiations with Israel.

The approval of the autonomy plan by the Israeli Knesset came after a tumultuous debate, which ended with Knesset members screaming at Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the architect of the plan.

Both sides heavily courted the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, but in the end none of the six Shas members voted. Their decision disappointed Mr. Rabin, who had to rely on five Israeli Arab members of the Knesset to insure a majority of 61 of 120 Knesset members.

Although he only needed a majority of those voting to approve the accord, Mr. Rabin had declared the measure a confidence vote in his government, requiring the approval of 61 members.

Mr. Rabin also had hoped for a "Jewish majority" in the Knesset.

But the opposition, led by Benyamin Netanyahu, also was disappointed when three members of the right-wing Likud bloc abstained. Those desertions, and the failure to win the Shas votes, were seen as a blow to Mr. Netanyahu's claims to strength.

Similarly, the public demonstrations that opponents had hoped to maintain outside the Knesset largely dwindled over the three days of the debate.

Mr. Peres applauded the outcome, saying, "We have been given the opportunity to finish off the enmity" between Jews and Arabs. "There is justice in the Jewish people."

Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi greeted the vote with praise, too. "Now we have become partners for peace rather than adversaries," she said.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza also showed support for the process. In a public opinion survey of 1,505 adults this week, 69 percent said they approve of the agreement.

The survey showed a sharp increase in Palestinian support for continued negotiations with Israel -- 73 percent compared to 38 percent in a similar poll taken in August.

The survey was conducted by a Palestinian research group, Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre, partly financed by CNN and France 2 television.

It showed that 64 percent support the PLO, the highest level shown in three polls taken this year. Islamic groups, which oppose negotiations with Israel, had the support of 18 percent, down from 24 percent in August.

The autonomy plan calls for a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Jericho and the Gaza Strip by Dec. 13. Withdrawal from populated areas in the rest of the West Bank is to occur by next July, when Palestinians will elect a council for self-government.

Right-wing settlers opposed to the pact tried to clear land near Ramallah yesterday and to establish a new settlement, but the Israeli Army intervened, as it has on other occasions.

The army also continued past practice by barring Palestinians from entering Israel because of the Yom Kippur observance today and tomorrow.

As part of the preparations for taking over some functions from the Army, the PLO's newly opened offices in the territories began recruiting for a Palestinian police force yesterday.

Officials said 12,000 men from inside and outside the territories would become police officers. Some already are being trained in Jordan and Egypt.

Speaking to foreign reporters, Ms. Ashrawi said she believes the agree

ment will permit Palestinians who fled to other countries in the 1967 war to return to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But she acknowledged "they can't all be returned in one batch. We can't accommodate them in one batch."

As many as 860,000 Palestinians in Jordan alone either fled the war or are children of those who did. Israel does not want so many Palestinians to join the 2 million residents of the occupied territories, and Ms. Ashrawi acknowledged that "we haven't talked numbers" with the Israeli authorities.

"The flow of people will have to be agreed upon," she said.

Ms. Ashrawi confirmed that Mr. Arafat is hoping to enter Jericho Jan. 1.

Israel has been mum about whether it would try to block the PLO chairman's entry, which is certain to prompt a huge celebration among Palestinians.

"I don't think they have any say in his coming back to Gaza and Jericho," Ms. Ashrawi said. "We took that for granted."

Although she cautioned that many details of the transition to autonomy have not been decided, she suggested Mr. Arafat would continue to exert power as chairman of the PLO and would not go on the Palestinian Council that is to be elected July 1.

Mr. Arafat "is not planning to change his title, as far as I know," she said.

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