With less than two weeks to go before a July 1 target date for reaching agreement on the next phase of Palestinian self-rule, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has warned that Israel would only be able to reach a partial accord by then.
Israel is only willing to negotiate a partial redeployment of Israeli troops in the West Bank prior to the holding of Palestinian elections, Rabin told a joint session of the Knesset Finance Committee and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.
He said Israel’s stance was well within the terms of the Palestinian self-rule accord, which calls for an Israeli troop redeployment in two stages.
“If we are asked to reach agreement [now] on both stages, it is very doubtful if we will be able to reach agreement at all on July 1,” he said.
The Palestinians have called on Israel to complete its redeployment before elections are held.
According to recent news reports, Israel is willing to carry out an initial redeployment from four town in the West Bank before elections: Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm and Kalkilya.
A redeployment from areas that create more problematic security concerns – - Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron — would be worked out later, according to the reports.
Rabin also complained to the Knesset committees of the high cost of the redeployment plan.
He said the estimated cost of redeploying bases, headquarters and troops, as well as building bypass roads, has been put at $333 million.
Rabin was quoted as telling the joint committee session that he could save millions of dollars by uprooting Jewish settlements in problematic areas of the West Bank.
But he said he would stick to his promise not to dismantle any of the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the five-year interim period of Palestinian self-rule.
“At present, we are not discussing transferring, moving or uprooting any settlement,” he later told reporters.
Members of the opposition blasted the prime minister for his redeployment plan, accusing him of selling out Israel’s security.
“This is not redeployment, it’s withdrawal,” Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters.
Redeployment would lead “to the entry of the PLO and Hamas into the towns of Judea and samaria, and in later stages giving them the rest of the territory,” he said.
In another development, Jewish settlers on Monday opened a dirt road connection several West Bank settlements.
The move came as part of a protest campaign launched last week against the planned Israel Defense Force redeployment in the West Bank.
The five-mile dirt track linked the settlement of Almon, located near Jericho, to Kfar Adumim on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It was built without IDF coordination.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair said Monday that settlers were acting illegally when they moved into 13 abandoned houses near the settlement of Barkan last week as part of their “Land of Israel First” campaign.
Ben-Yair passed on the ruling to Rabin in a letter, raising the possibility that the settlers may be ordered to evacuate.
But settlement leaders said the land is private property and that they are ready to defend their rights in court.