The Knesset’s winter session opened Monday with an address by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who rejected the idea of holding a national referendum on the recently signed agreement with the Palestinians for extending West Bank autonomy.
In his address, Peres expressed optimism that support for the government among the Israeli public would grow with the implementation of the accord, which was signed in Washington on Sept. 28.
But the opposition lashed out at the government’s peace policies, with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu charging Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Peres with giving away Israel’s security assets.
The winter session of the Knesset, which has witnessed many a tumultuous debate, may prove to be one of the stormiest yet because it will be the Parliament’s final session before the 1996 national elections.
The opposition, bolstered by discontent with the peace process among large segments of the Israeli public, is reportedly planning to present legislation to dissolve the government and call for early elections.
“The Labor party is very concerned and has good reason to be worried,” Moshe Katsav, Likud faction chairman, told Israel Radio, nothing that there is only a one or two vote difference in the Knesset between the coalition and opposition.
A number of bills regarding Jerusalem are also expected to be submitted by Likud members during the Knesset session.
These included a bill to extend Jerusalem’s municipal borders to include the satellite communities of Ma’aleh Adumim, Betar and Givat Ze’ev, and one to close down Orient House, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s de facto headquarters in eastern Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, preparations were under way this week for the transfer to the Palestinians of the West Bank town of Jenin, the first of six West Bank towns to be transferred before the end of the year under the terms of the Interim Agreement.
The transfer in Jenin was scheduled to begin Wednesday with the opening of a joint Israeli-Palestinian district coordinating office, and with the entry into Jenin of the first contingent of Palestinian police.
However, the arrival of the police remained unclear as Israeli and Palestinians disagreed over whether the officers would arrive in uniform and armed, or in civilian clothing, as Israel prefers.
Uri Savir, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry, said the actual redeployment of Israeli troops from Jenin would not begin for at least another week.
At a briefing in Jerusalem on Monday, Savir described the Israeli pullback from each West Bank town slated for redeployment as a three-week process.
Savir estimated that the transfer of civilian authorities in Jenin would take place about Nov. 5 and that the Israel Defense Force withdrawal from the town would be completed by Nov. 19.
Savir added that the IDF withdrawal from all six West Bank towns – Jenin, Tulkarm, Kalkilya, Nablus, Bethlehem and Ramallah – would be completed in time for Palestinian elections, which have been scheduled for Jan. 20.
He said the IDF redeployment in the seventh city, Hebron, would take place some time after the elections.
In Bethlehem, Palestinian officials were busy planning for the first Christmas celebrations to be conducted under their self-rule government.
Israeli army officials were quoted by Israel Radio as saying that the troop redeployment from Bethlehem would be completed by Dec. 21.
Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freji said he would ban alcohol during Christmas celebrations.
He added that the town would be festooned with Palestinian flags for the festivities, a move Israeli troops prohibited during last year’s celebrations.
PLO leader Yasser Arafat is reportedly planning to invite numerous world leaders to Bethlehem for Christmas, a move planned to bolster his popularity only weeks before the Palestinian elections are slated to be held.