JERUSALEM (Nov. 19)
Israel’s Cabinet has approved the first of three redeployments called for under the Wye accord.
Thursday’s decision, backed by fewer than half of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 17 ministers, clears the way for the Israeli army to begin a further pullback in the West Bank on Friday.
The Cabinet vote, 7-5 with three abstentions, came after ministers decided that the Palestinian Authority had met its initial obligations under the land-for- security accord, according to Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh.
Naveh said these obligations included arresting wanted fugitives, issuing a decree regarding illegal weapons and issuing an anti-incitement order.
He also said the 18-member PLO Executive Committee had backed the annulment of those clauses in the Palestinian charter that call for Israel’s destruction.
Reacting to the Cabinet decision, the Yesha Council, which represents settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said it was “astounded” that the Israeli government had been duped by Arafat.
As a result of the Cabinet vote, Israel will transfer 2 percent of the West Bank, or some 44 square miles, from sole Israeli control to joint control with the Palestinian Authority. In addition, Israel will hand over 7.1 percent of land in the region from joint to sole Palestinian control.
Along with making the first of the three redeployments, Israel will soon release some 250 Palestinian prisoners. In addition, Israel will approve the long-delayed opening of a Palestinian airport in the Gaza Strip.
Negotiations about the airport have been delayed for more than a year because of differences regarding security arrangements there.
Naveh said Israel would be responsible for security for the first three months of operation, when the matter would again come up for review.
On Sunday, Morocco’s national airline will be the first plane to land at the Palestinian airport.
Naveh stressed that none of the Palestinian prisoners being released has blood on their hands. He added that any prisoners the self-rule authority refuses to accept would be jailed again.
Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani said 100 prisoners convicted of security offenses and 150 prisoners convicted of criminal offenses would be freed in the first release.
Army crews are meanwhile continuing to pave bypass roads near Jewish settlements preparation for the redeployment.
Security arrangements are not complete for two Jewish settlements that will be surrounded by Palestinian self-rule areas after the first redeployment called for under the Wye accord takes place, Israel Radio reported.
Israeli and Palestinian security forces discussed the pullback during a meeting Thursday near the West Bank town of Jenin, where most of the first phase of the redeployment will take place.
Thousands of Palestinians paraded in Jenin to celebrate what will be Israel’s first handover of West Bank lands in nearly two years.