JERUSALEM (Oct. 28)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, lobbying for support of the latest Israeli-Palestinian accord, has appealed to his own Likud Party to back the deal.
The Wye River Memorandum calls for an Israeli pullback from 13 percent of the West Bank in exchange for Palestinian measures to prevent terrorist actions.
No vote was taken at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Likud’s central committee, which convened amid an evolving crisis that could delay the scheduled Nov. 2 implementation of the Wye agreement.
Earlier this week Netanyahu postponed indefinitely a Cabinet vote on the Wye accord, fueling speculation that he believes a majority of his ministers would reject it. Netanyahu sought to divert attention from his own domestic political challenges by accusing the Palestinian Authority of failing to deliver a security plan on time, according to Israeli media reports.
In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin announced that the Palestinian Authority will submit by Friday a plan to fight terrorism. Rubin called the delayed Israeli Cabinet vote a “manageable” problem and went out of his way to praise Netanyahu and express American confidence that the accord will be implemented.
With Jewish settlers and other right-wing groups demonstrating against the deal outside the Tel Aviv auditorium where the Likud leadership met, Netanyahu appealed to the party members’ sense of unity, reminding them that the Likud had campaigned in 1996 promising peace and security — and that this was what the Wye agreement achieved.
“We have one objective, and even when we differ over how to achieve it, we must not forget the unity in this purpose,” Netanyahu said.
Rather than focus on the schism within Likud, Netanyahu blasted what he described as the Labor Party’s position on the peace process.
He painted the Wye agreement as a major achievement that maximizes Israeli security and interests in contrast to the kind of accord Labor would reach.
Netanyahu stressed that the negotiators had fought hard to make the best out of the inherent problems in Oslo — and brought home an accord which conceded far less to the Palestinians than one a Labor-led government might have achieved.
“The Palestinians told us that they understood from the previous [Labor-led] government, that after the three further redeployments,” stipulated in the Interim Agreement, they would receive “more than 90 percent of the territory,” Netanyahu said.
Calling the Oslo accords “an accordion which expanded in three further redeployments to 90 percent of the territory,” Netanyahu said he took that accordion and “retracted it until it went to 10 percent and three percent.”
“Beyond that we could not retract it, and I am proud of what we achieved.”
Netanyahu declared that Israel made clear to the Americans that the Israeli Cabinet would determine the scope of the third phase of the further redeployment, which would not exceed 1 percent.
Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon, who has called the 13 percent troop withdrawal “dangerous,” backed Netanyahu at the Likud meeting, saying the Israeli leadership had no alternative.
“No one else could bring a better situation. We could not have gone [to the Wye summit] and said we are against the entire process. In my view, our situation would have been worse,” Sharon declared.
Sharon dismissed rumors that Netanyahu postponed a Cabinet meeting to ratify the accord because of concern that it lacked a majority. He backed the prime minister’s declaration that it was because the Palestinians had yet to present a working plan to fight terrorism.
“The prime minister’s decision to delay the meeting stemmed solely from our determination not to give on any point in Palestinian fulfillment of commitments. If they don’t act, they don’t get,” he said.
Sharon said the real battle will be in the final-status talks, and he called on “unity within all the ranks, including the opposition.”
The most virulent attack on the prime minister came from Likud legislator Ze’ev “Benny” Begin, who resigned from Netanyahu’s Cabinet after the Hebron Agreement was signed nearly two years ago.
Begin said the Israeli negotiators were “wrapped around Yasser Arafat’s finger.”
He called the agreement “nonsense and lawlessness.” Begin said Netanyahu had returned from Washington with an unprecedented achievement — for the Palestinians. He charged the prime minister with activating a campaign to defraud and deceive the public from knowing the real details of the agreement.
Netanyahu retorted in later remarks that Begin had quoted the agreement out of context and that the accord had important achievements for Israel.