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Palestinian anger mounts over redeployment decision

JERUSALEM, March 10 (JTA) — Israel-Palestinian relations have reached a crisis, with Palestinian officials protesting the decision to transfer 9 percent of rural West Bank areas to the Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Abbas, who serves as second-in-command to Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, threatened Monday to resign as chief negotiator because of the dispute with Israel. On Sunday night, Abbas, better known as Abu-Mazen, conveyed Palestinian anger over the scope of the redeployment to Foreign Minister David Levy. Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat accused Israel of violating their signed agreements. Netanyahu, who left Monday for a three-day official visit to Russia, appeared unfazed by the Palestinian reaction. Netanyahu was quoted as saying that the Palestinians had finally realized that a new, nationalist government was in power in Israel. A senior Israeli political source quoted by Israel Radio said that after last Friday’s Cabinet decision, at least two efforts by Netanyahu to contact Arafat by telephone had been rebuffed. The source, on the premier’s plane to Russia, was quoted as saying that in Netanyahu’s absence, Levy had been instructed to continue efforts to resolve the crisis with the Palestinian leadership. Israeli security forces were meanwhile ordered to be on alert for any violent Palestinian reaction. Several hundred Palestinians, protesting construction of a new road near the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, clashed Monday with Israeli security forces. Witnesses said that at least 10 Palestinians were injured after Israeli forces beat back angry stone-throwers. Within hours after the clash near the West Bank town of Hebron, Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai met with Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo in an effort to defuse the tensions. Rabbo told reporters after the meeting at a Tel Aviv hotel that the situation was rapidly deteriorating. “There is a crisis, and the crisis is becoming worse and worse,” he said. Palestinian anger was already simmering over earlier Israeli decisions to build housing for Jews at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem and to issue closure orders for four Palestinian offices operating in eastern Jerusalem.
Tensions were further heightened by the Israeli government decision to transfer 9 percent of the West Bank to self-rule — a move that fell far below Palestinian expectations. In his meeting with Levy, Abu-Mazen had demanded that the Palestinians be consulted on the scope of the withdrawals. The Hebron agreement stipulates that Israel will 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. In addition to the Palestinian criticism, Netanyahu found himself facing a second battle from members of his own coalition. Before his departure for Russia, the prime minister spent most of the day in meetings with hawkish coalition members, hoping to persuade them not to abandon his government. Eight Knesset members have threatened to vote no-confidence in the government if Netanyahu does not change his policies. Shaul Yahalom of the National Religious Party called Monday on his party to pull out of the government. He also called for an early election and a new right-wing candidate for prime minister, but his proposal to the NRP caucus was rejected. Netanyahu’s contacts also appeared to be aimed at gauging support in the Knesset for a number of legislative initiatives to amend the current law relating to the direct election of the prime minister. One such proposal, sponsored by Labor Knesset member Moshe Shahal, would require a simple Knesset majority of 61 of the 120 legislators to oust the prime minister without calling for new general elections. Under existing law, the no-confidence vote of a simple parliamentary majority would result in new elections for both prime minister and for the Knesset. A majority of 80 Knesset members voting no-confidence would result in a new vote for prime minister, but no new parliamentary elections.