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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 11:33 GMT

World: Middle East

Israel makes peace pledge

Is Mr Netanyahu now losing his grip on power?

The Israeli Government has said new elections expected early next year will not stop it from implementing the interim peace deal it signed with the Palestinians in October.

Middle East
Palestinian leaders and American officials have urged Israel not to abandon the process during the election campaign.

The process is already effectively frozen, but a spokesman was anxious to clarify that Israel was not reneging on its commitment to the peace deal.

The BBC's Paul Adams: Turbulent times ahead
A statement from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office said if the Palestinian Authority lived up to its obligations, Israel would do the same, whether or not there were elections.

The Israeli cabinet had already suspended the peace process last week, saying the Palestinians still had to fulfill a list of security conditions - some demands going further than the terms of the original deal.

In an interview with the BBC, a senior Palestinian official said she believed the agreement would never be implemented.

Palestinian spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi: "Mission impossible"
Hanan Ashrawi accused the Likud government of "discrepancy between the verbal level and the actual level" of commitment to implementing the peace agreement.

"They said that they are committed and will implement the agreement 'provided' - now this issue 'provided' is a mission impossible," said Ms Ashrawi.

She said that Israel's new conditions to implementation were unacceptable.

"Among them are the Palestinians abandoning the right to statehood or declarations of statehood and accepting the Israeli criteria for Palestinian prisoners.

"These conditions are impossible to fulfil. So they made sure that there will be no implementation," she said.

Netanyahu under attack

[ image:  ]
Support for Mr Netanyahu appears to be crumbling as politicians stake out their positions after a vote in favour of an early general election.

The move was precipitated by parliament passing the first reading of a bill to dissolve the House and bring forward the polls to a date probably in March or April.

During the debate, Mr Netanyahu came in for angry criticism both from liberals over his suspension of the latest peace deal, and from right-wingers over concessions made to the Palestinians.

The vote ended a chaotic session of the 120-member Knesset, where Mr Netanyahu's right-wing coalition fell apart over his handling of the Wye River land-for-security accord signed in October.

Members of Mr Netanyahu's own Likud party also backed the bill - acknowledging that the embattled leader can no longer command a stable majority.

[ image: Knesset: Chaotic session]
Knesset: Chaotic session
Correspondents say April is the most likely time for polling day - around the time Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is proposing to declare a Palestinian state.

The vote followed a last ditch appeal by Mr Netanyahu to set up a national unity government.

But his proposal to delay the vote for 72 hours for discussions was swiftly rejected by opposition Labour leader Ehud Barak.

Ehud Barak: ""We need a new government"
"This government is at the end of the road. To my great regret the right path is to go for elections," he said.

By allowing parliament to be dissolved Mr Netanyahu will avoid a no confidence vote and give himself more time to prepare for elections.

Since signing the Wye River memorandum, Mr Netanyahu has taken a hard line with the Palestinians in what is seen as an attempt to keep his seven party coalition government together.

However, many on the right are said to be unimpressed, and there have been predictions some would have joined his opponents on the left to bring down the government in a confidence motion.

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