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Israeli-Palestinian ties strained as ire over redeployment mounts

JERUSALEM, March 11 (JTA) — Arab anger is seething in the wake of Israel’s redeployment decision and plans to build in eastern Jerusalem. The Cabinet voted 10-7 last Friday to turnover 9 percent of rural West Bank areas to the Palestinian Authority. That decision followed Israel’s announcement that it would build 6,500 Jewish housing units at Har Homa in eastern Jerusalem. The latest moves by the Israeli government have elicited sharp criticism from Jordan’s King Hussein and Palestinian appeals to the international community to intervene in the peace process. During a visit to Russia this week, Netanyahu said of the Arab reaction: “This kind of doomsday talk and the whole histrionic attitude towards obvious disagreement is itself not conducive to the [peace] process. “We have disagreement,” the prime minister said. “We cannot at every stage of this agreement engage in cataclysmic predictions and talk of crisis and violence.” Jordan’s King Hussein — traditionally Israel’s closest friend in the region — sent a letter to Netanyahu saying that the premier had committed “accumulated acts of a tragic nature” and that the recent Israeli construction and redeployment decisions could destroy the peace process. “Peace, which is the most important aim of my life, appears more and more like a distant mirage,” the official Jordanian news agency Petra quoted the king as saying in the letter. Jordanian officials, meanwhile, broadly hinted that the crisis with the Palestinians could affect Jordan’s relations with Israel. The two countries signed a peace treaty in 1994. “The peace process is going through crisis, a real crisis,” Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul Karim al-Kabariti said after talks Tuesday in Amman with Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai. “We warn of unilateral moves that could lead us to difficult choices,” Kabariti added. Mordechai downplayed tensions with Jordan, saying there were misunderstandings that he believed could be overcome. Palestinian officials, meanwhile, sharply criticized what they said was an insubstantial transfer of West Bank lands to their control. They charged that the Cabinet decision was meaningless because much of the land to be transferred already was under their civilian control. Two percent of the land to be transferred would come from areas that now are under full Israeli control. “Israel is pushing us into a corner, making us desperate,” Mohammad Dahlan, head of the Palestinian security service in the Gaza Strip, told the Israeli daily Ma’ariv. “The street is heating up and about to boil.” The Hebron agreement, signed in January, stipulates that Israel make three redeployments from the West Bank before mid-1998. But the accord does not detail the extent of the redeployments, which Israel and the United States say is up to the Jewish state alone to determine. Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat rejected the Israeli transfer of West Bank lands, leaving uncertain when — or if — the planned transfer would take place. Palestinian officials have denied reports that Arafat suspended all contacts with the Jewish state, but it remained unlikely that the final- status negotiations would resume next week as originally called for in the Hebron accord. On Tuesday, Arafat invited diplomats from the United States, Russia and the European Union to join Arab representatives in Gaza this weekend to discuss how to salvage the peace process. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the United States would attend the Gaza meeting “if an invitation is formally issued.” Foreign Minister David Levy warned that any resort to international pressure was a clear violation of the peace accords, which “state that all matters in dispute between Israel and the Palestinians will be resolved by the sides in negotiations.” The increased tensions were underscored by a stabbing attack early Tuesday morning in the West Bank, where a 19-year-old Israeli soldier guarding the Omarim settlement south of Hebron sustained severe wounds in the head and chest after repeated stabbings by two assailants. He was listed in serious but stable condition at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba. Israeli security forces carrying out searches in the Palestinian village of Dahariya arrested a number of suspects.