JERUSALEM (Mar. 2)
Israel is not expected to meet this week’s deadline for carrying out the first of three redeployments from rural areas of the West Bank.
Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh said Sunday that “logistical delays” could result in the postponement of the Israel Defense Force redeployment.
Under the terms of the Hebron agreement signed in January, Israel is to carry out the first of those redeployments by the end of the first week in March. The final redeployment is scheduled to be completed by mid-1998.
The Cabinet was scheduled to discuss the scope of the pullback later this week.
Two Cabinet ministers from the immigrant-rights Yisrael Ba’Aliyah party, Natan Sharansky and Yuli Edelstein, said last Friday that they would not vote in favor of the first withdrawal unless they were told the full extent of all three redeployments.
Naveh would not say Sunday how long it would take to implement the redeployment once a government decision was made.
Nor would he elaborate on the redeployment’s estimated scope, saying only that it would be determined by security considerations and Jewish settlement concerns.
He dismissed reports that Israel had agreed to a larger troop withdrawal in the first phase — up to 10 percent of the West Bank — in exchange for a muted Palestinian response to Israel’s decision last week to build a new Jewish neighborhood in southeastern Jerusalem.
Palestinian and other Arab officials have condemned the decision to start construction at Har Homa as a violation of the peace process.
At an urgent meeting over the weekend of Arab League members in Cairo, Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat suggested that he might declare the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital in retaliation for the Israeli move.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that such declaration would bring the peace process to a halt.
American officials also have been critical of the Har Homa decision.
But they also criticized recent Palestinian warnings that a go-ahead for construction at Har Homa could lead to violence.
Despite the tensions, the Palestinian reaction to the Har Homa project was relatively restrained over the weekend in the West Bank and Gaza.
This stood in marked contrast to the violent riots that erupted in September after Israel opened a new entrance to an archaeological tunnel near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Fifteen Israelis and 61 Palestinians were killed during the three days of violence.