Israeli leader retains power Netanyahu wins easily as Knesset conducts a no-confidence vote

Wye agreement challenged

West Bank slayings, call for early elections threaten peace effort

October 27, 1998|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easily survived a parliamentary vote of no-confidence last night as he pressed lawmakers to approve last week's peace deal with the Palestinians.

However, escalating violence and a call for early elections threatened to undermine his effort to restore the Middle East peace process.

A young Israeli was shot execution-style and his body dumped in downtown Hebron in the West Bank yesterday afternoon. Hours later, police found the body of an elderly Palestinian near the Jewish settlement of Itamar in the West Bank. A man speaking in Hebrew had informed police about the Palestinian, saying he was killed in retaliation for the Hebron slaying.

The bloodshed reinforced Israeli hard-liners' opposition to the land-for-security agreement reached last week at Wye Plantation on Maryland's Eastern Shore. They have little faith in Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's ability to rein in terrorists if Israel withdraws from another 13 percent of the West Bank as Netanyahu agreed to.

"Netanyahu's definition of peace and security is different from everybody else's," said David Wilder, a spokesman for West Bank settlers who staged a noisy demonstration last night outside the prime minister's Jerusalem residence.

"His definition of security includes knifings, shootings and murders," said Wilder. "We have to find a prime minister who understands that security means living without being attacked, without being shot at or murdered in your back yard."

Netanyahu spent the day meeting with members of the Israeli parliament from his hard-line Likud party, other coalition members and leaders of the nationalist settlers group to win approval of the interim peace agreement.

He suffered an initial setback as lawmakers decided to present a bill calling for an early election, in the spring. But a no-confidence vote brought by the tiny, extreme right-wing Moledet party was defeated 21-8 with 15 abstentions. It was the first parliamentary challenge of the peace accord but had little chance of approval. Netanyahu and scores of other legislators did not vote.

The prime minister expressed confidence yesterday that the peace deal would be approved and said he had no plans to call early elections.

"I believe we will get a majority in the Cabinet and in parliament to vote in favor [of the deal]," Netanyahu told Israel Radio.

"I am not going to call early elections," he said, referring to speculation that he would try to take advantage of what opinion polls have indicated is heavy public support for the agreement, apart from nationalists and those on the right wing.

The Israeli parliament, or Knesset, will begin discussing the Wye pact Nov. 3. Government spokesmen acknowledged that legislators will be looking for signs from Arafat that he will react swiftly to yesterday's slaying in Hebron.

"If the [Palestinian authority] acts decisively and quickly to find the persons responsible, then it will be a sign that they are serious about fighting terror," said Moshe Fogel, an Israeli government spokesman. "If not, I think it will have an impact on how people here will view the overall agreement."

As of last night, no group had claimed responsibility for the Jewish settler's death.

The settler was identified as Dani Vargas, a 29-year-old utility worker and father of two from Kiryat Arba, a settlement near Hebron. Israeli police said Vargas' killers were seen fleeing in his car. The car was later found abandoned in the Palestinian-run area of Hebron.

Palestinian paramedics tried to revive Vargas and then pronounced him dead. They said he had been shot in the neck, chest and hand.

The Israeli army said last night that it had imposed a general closure on Hebron, preventing Palestinians from leaving or entering the city.

Israel TV identified the dead Palestinian as Mohammed Zalmouk, a 65-year-old from a neighboring Palestinian village who worked in the olive groves outside Itamar.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank town of Ramallah participated in a general strike yesterday to protest the shooting death of a 16-year-old Palestinian youth by Palestinian authority intelligence agents. The shooting occurred Sunday as the agents raided the offices of the Fatah political faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization in search of illegal weapons.

Arafat flew to Saudi Arabia yesterday to seek support for his accord with Israel. Earlier, Saudi King Fahd said the agreement "should be the launching pad for a new phase of just and comprehensive peace for all the countries of the region."

In addition to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Arafat has visited Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

The interim peace agreement also requires Israel to release 750 Palestinian prisoners and provide safe passage for Palestinians traveling from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. For their part, the Palestinians agreed to U.S. oversight of their anti-terrorist campaign, confiscation of illegal weapons and revocation of clauses in their charter that call for the destruction of Israel.

Pub Date: 10/27/98

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