Israel agrees to cede more land Cabinet approves plan in principle to pull back troops

Crackdown on terrorism among conditions set

December 01, 1997|By Ann Lolordo | Ann Lolordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Cabinet approved in principle yesterday a plan to give the Palestinians more West Bank rural land to control.

But the Cabinet did not set a timetable for the removal of Israeli troops from areas of the occupied territories or define its scope -- two key issues for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his people. It also made the pullouts conditional on Palestinians containing terrorism more effectively.

Palestinian officials, who expect to gain control of 20 percent to 25 percent of the West Bank through the redeployment of Israeli troops, had mixed reactions.

Marwan Kanafani, an Arafat aide, expressed cautious optimism on Israel fulfilling its obligations under peace accords signed in Oslo, Norway, in 1993.

"In principle, it is encouraging to hear that the Israeli government will implement the agreement we have signed with them," Kanafani said. "On the other hand, I read some terminology in the decision that makes me very worried about the sincerity of the Israeli government in implementing the decision. "

But Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian Cabinet minister, rejected any Israeli conditions for withdrawals already promised. "We are not willing to accept unilateral Israeli measures," she told CNN.

Under the 1993 accords, Israel is committed to three more military pullbacks from mostly rural areas of the West Bank before a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians. The two sides are then to negotiate the tougher issues -- the future of Jerusalem, the return of Palestinian refugees, and the status of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Yesterday's proposal, approved by the Israeli Cabinet in a 16-0 vote with two absentions, combines two troop withdrawals and skips the third in exchange for accelerated "final status" talks leading to a full peace settlement. The 1993 accords call for a full settlement by mid-1999.

Besides waging a strong crackdown on terrorism, the preconditions include confiscation of illegal weapons in the Palestinian areas and agreement to accelerate negotiations on a final peace settlement.

Israeli government spokesman Moshe Fogel also said the government would continue to strengthen the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, decrease friction between Israelis and Arabs living there, and ensure all residents' security.

The Netanyahu Cabinet decision comes amid increasing pressure from the United States for Israel to live up to its commitments and take substantive action to move the stalled peace process forward.

Netanyahu has also faced attacks from some of his most ardent supporters who oppose any additional land transfers to the Palestinians.

On Saturday night, several hundred people demonstrated outside the prime minister's house in Jerusalem. A council representing the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip sponsored the demonstration.

Yossi Beilin, a leading member of the opposition Labor Party and a proponent of the 1993 peace accords, said yesterday's Cabinet decision defers any future troop removals.

"I don't know whether it is a joke or a tragedy. The bottom line is they are not going to implement it," he said in an interview with Israeli radio.

Senior Palestine Liberation Organization negotiator Saeb Erekat said: "The first phase of further redeployments has been overdue since March and the second stage since September.

"We really think that this time, the United States, which gave us guarantees, will have a say."

Pub Date: 12/01/97

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