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Knesset Ratifies Cairo Accord After Opposition Walks out of Hall

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By a vote of 52-0, the Knesset voted its approval Wednesday night of the agreement signed last week in Cairo by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that set in motion the long-delayed start of Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and Jericho.

But the rare unanimity of a Knesset vote occurred only after all the members of the op position parties walked out, demanding that the government hold a national referendum on the self-rule accord.

In the debate leading up to the vote, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin spoke of the “great pleasure” it gave him to see Israeli soldiers give up their posts on the strife-ridden streets of Gaza, where they were replaced this week by the first contingents of Palestinian police.

Israeli soldiers, Rabin said, have “no business there, and no one has the right to endanger their lives by keeping them there. No one!”

During his speech, Rabin assured the Knesset that the agreement signed last week in Cairo — a copy of which was given to every Knesset member before the vote — contained no secret clauses.

“This is a good agreement that presents us with a real chance for peace,” the prime minister said.

Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu countered with his own view of the situation, charging that Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres were the only people anywhere in the world who still trusted PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

As the leader of the opposition spoke of Arafat’s expansionist goals — which would extend far beyond Israel’s borders — the prime minister shrugged dismissively and said, “Nonsense!”

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