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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Survives No-Confidence Vote Over West Bank Troop

December 1, 1997

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Survives No-Confidence Vote Over West Bank Troop Pullback Proposal As Palestinians Reject OfferBy SAMAR ASSAD

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel’s plan to pull its troops from more West Bank land _ an offer with several strings attached _ is merely a ploy to keep control of the territory, Palestinians officials said Monday as they rejected the plan.

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, secretary general of the Palestinian Authority, said the Israeli Cabinet’s offer was deceptive, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was violating past agreements signed by Israel.

``It is like throwing sand in our eyes,″ said Abdel Rahim, who speaks for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Israel’s Cabinet decided in principle Sunday to pull back troops in the West Bank. It set no date and attached five demands, including a crackdown on Islamic militants and the handover of Palestinians suspected of killing Israelis.

The Cabinet decision, considered inadequate by the opposition in parliament, prompted a no-confidence vote, which Netanyahu survived by a 50-45 margin.

The prime minister, in a Monday evening phone conversation with Arafat, described the redeployment decision as an important move forward in the peace process.

It appears unlikely, however, that Arafat would carry out arrests on a scale that would satisfy Israel. Netanyahu’s hard-line policies have steadily eroded Arafat’s standing, and he is reluctant to risk a showdown with his most powerful political rival, the Islamic militant group Hamas.

The Palestinian Authority, not wanting to be seen by its people as Israel’s lackey, also has refused to hand over suspects sought by Israel in connection with attacks on Israelis.

Israeli Justice Minister Tsahi Hanegbi said Monday that the West Bank troops would not move until Arafat has fulfilled the demands.

Hanegbi also said Israel only would decide on the extent of a possible withdrawal after ministers have agreed on Israel’s opening position for talks on a permanent peace agreement. In such negotiations, the two sides are to discuss the most sensitive issues _ borders, the status of Jerusalem and the future of Jewish settlements.

Under a U.S.-brokered agreement signed a year ago, Israel had promised to pull back troops in the West Bank in three stages by mid-1998. The Palestinians rejected as insufficient the initial Israeli offer in March of a pullback from 2 percent of the West Bank.

In Sunday’s vote on what would be stage two, the Cabinet asked the Palestinians to forgo the promised third stage altogether. Instead, the two sides would begin negotiations on the permanent peace agreement.

Abdel Rahim said that is not acceptable.

``He (Netanyahu) wants to create the image that he wants to implement the agreements when in fact he wants to bypass them by taking unilateral decision,″ Abdel Rahim told The Associated Press.

``We ask the United States as a co-sponsor to pressure Israel to make sure it abides by the agreements as they have been signed,″ he said.

U.S officials have said Netanyahu cannot act unilaterally to delay the pullback or cancel the third stage.

Privately, Arafat reportedly has dismissed Israel’s decision as evasive. He has not commented in public, apparently wanting to hear first from the Clinton administration.

Arafat turned down a Netanyahu request last week for a meeting, the Yediot Ahronot daily reported Monday.

Egypt also rejected the Israeli troop pull back.

``What we heard is an Israeli decision that will not push the peace process forward but, rather, will create more complications,″ Foreign Minister Amr Moussa told reporters in Cairo. ``It will not help.″

In other developments Monday:

_Israeli soldiers fired rubber bullets to disperse Palestinian stone throwers in the West Bank village of Beita. Imad Daoud, 15, was hospitalized after being struck in the head.

_Israel approved 900 new homes for the Jewish settlement of Alfei Menashe in the West Bank, despite a U.S. request for a timeout in construction. Another 362 homes were approved last month.

_ The Israel Lands Authority is seeking bids to build an additional 26 housing units in Nitzanit settlement in the Gaza Strip, Israel radio reported.

_An unidentified gunman in the Gaza Strip shot an Israeli soldier in the shoulder, Israel radio and army radio said. The soldier was manning an observation post to prevent illegal crossing and smuggling from Egypt into the Gaza Strip.

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