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Wednesday, November 18, 1998 Published at 05:04 GMT

World: Middle East

Knesset approves peace deal

Knesset approves but fiercest critics are in the cabinet

The Israeli parliament has overwhelmingly approved the new peace agreement with the Palestinians allowing for a withdrawal of Israeli troops from further territory in the West Bank.

Middle East
The opposition Labour party joined the government in supporting the peace plan with 75 votes in favour to 19 against with nine abstentions.

It will now go to the cabinet for final approval on Thursday, a day later than expected.

Lyse Doucet: It doesn't mean the road ahead is now clear
A spokesman said this was to give more time to the Palestinian Authority to issue a decree against anti-Israeli incitement and provide a plan for collecting illegal weapons.

Most of Mr Netanyahu's support came from the Labour Party, which which started the peace process nearly five years ago, and vowed to help the deal through parliament at the time of the Wye agreement.

Only nine of 17 ministers in the cabinet showed up for the vote and two voted against it. Those who chose not to participate included some members of Mr Netanyahu's ruling Likud party.

[ image: Settlers are digging in]
Settlers are digging in
After the vote former Labour Prime Minister Shimon Peres said support for the deal was impressive, but it did not reflect support for the prime minister.

"It was bizarre that most of the support came from the opposition... We didn't support the prime minister but we did support the peace process," he said.

But some right-wingers said the vote did not have the support of the government.

Nissan Slomyansky of the National Religious Party said: "Most of the government wasn't here and didn't vote for this. The prime minister has to understand this position and maybe even stop it".

But the parliament's support mirrors broad public approval in Israel for this new agreement.

The BBC Jerusalem Correspondent, Lyse Doucet, says the critics within the cabinet are insisting on verification at every stage of a phased twelve-week process already running behind schedule.

The cabinet wants clear proof that the Palestinians have met the first of their commitments before Israel starts its next troop pull-back from the West Bank. That includes the publication of decrees against anti-Israeli incitement and the possession of illegal weapons.

The Palestinians accuse Israel of rewriting the terms of their new deal, but Mr Netanyahu has made it clear this is the only way that Israel is prepared to move forward.

The parliament's vote came only hours after the prime minister withdrew threats to halt implementation until the Palestinian leader retracted statements which seemed to call on the Palestinians to take up arms in this struggle.

Yasser Arafat complied immediately, emphasising that the Palestinians would solve all problems through negotiations, not violence.

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