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Thursday, November 12, 1998 Published at 05:05 GMT


World: Middle East

Israeli cabinet confirms peace deal

Right-wing Israelis oppose handing over more land


Government spokesman Moshe Fogel: "We're giving the process a chance"
The Israeli cabinet has narrowly agreed to ratify the peace agreement reached with the Palestinians and signed in Washington two-and-a-half weeks ago - setting the stage for another withdrawal from the West Bank.

Middle East

The 17-member cabinet voted eight to four in favour, with five abstentions.

The cabinet also attached a number of conditions to its approval.

The three main conditions are:

  • the cabinet will meet at every stage during the next three months to decide whether or not to go ahead with the next phase.

  • Israel reserves the right to annex parts of the West Bank if the Palestinians should declare an independent state.

  • the Palestine National Council meeting next month should vote on removing clauses urging the destruction of Israel.


Paul Adams discusses the cabinet decision
The BBC Middle East correspondent, Paul Adams, says this last condition could prove to be a major stumbling block.

The Foreign Minister, Ariel Sharon, has warned that implementation of the deal will halt if the Palestinians fail to stick to their commitments, including deleting the part of their charter calling for Israel's destruction.


Saeb Erekat: wants implementation of agreement as signed
However, the conditions were criticised by a senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat.

He said his side had lodged an official complaint with the Americans about new conditions such as Mr Netanyahu's demand.

Right-wing opposition

The accord had faced strong opposition from some hardline nationalist ministers and among Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's core right-wing constituency.

The accord now goes to the Israeli parliament - the Knesset - which will vote on the deal on Monday.

Under the terms of the agreement brokered by President Clinton, Israel is to withdraw over three months from an additional 13% of the West Bank in exchange for a series of Palestinian actions against anti-Israel militants.


[ image: Friday's bomb heightened Israeli security fears]
Friday's bomb heightened Israeli security fears
The pullbacks are due to begin on Monday, but Mr Netanyahu has told Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that they are likely to be delayed by several days due to the hold-up in government ratification of the peace accord.

Delayed peace

After several delays the government had been due to ratify the agreement last Friday, but talks were suspended following a bomb attack in Jerusalem carried out by the militant group, Islamic Jihad.


[ image: Tensions remain over expanding Jewish settlements]
Tensions remain over expanding Jewish settlements
Citing "relentless terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens" a government statement said it would not agree to ratify the deal until it was satisfied that the Palestinians would wage "all-out war" on anti-Israel militants.

But on Tuesday, the prime minister's office said a decision had been taken to reconvene talks following "reports indicating the Palestinian Authority has begun taking practical steps against the terrorist infrastructure and the terrorists."

Today's ratification is the latest stage in the interim phase of the peace process which is already badly behind schedule.

Final status talks - on the future of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the eventual status of the Palestinian areas - are meant to be completed by next May.



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