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Cabinet Acquiesces to Israeli Plan for Small Group Pullback

By Marjorie Miller
Los Angeles Times
JERUSALEM

After angry and protracted debate, the divided cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu '76 decided early Friday to carry out another limited pullback of its troops from West Bank lands, in keeping with the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements.

The right-wing government voted narrowly to withdraw from 9 percent of the West Bank in the first of three such moves that are to take place before the end of next year.

This withdrawal was far less than the Palestinians had expected. But the government hopes it will be enough to stave off violent protests by Palestinians, who already are enraged over recent Israeli decisions to build a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem and close Palestinian offices in the holy city.

Palestinian leaders have called for a demonstration Friday at the site of the 6,500-unit Jewish development planned for southeastern Jerusalem, on a slope that Israel calls Har Homa and Palestinians call Jabal Abu Ghneim.

The United States, Europe and Arab states have joined Palestinians in criticizing Israel for the construction plan and the order to close the four Palestinian offices in Jerusalem, saying that such moves foster mistrust and threaten to derail the peace process.

The U.S.-brokered agreement that Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat signed in January called for an Israeli pullback from most of the West Bank city of Hebron and committed Israel to three future redeployments, mainly from rural areas.

The accord did not determine the extent of those moves and left it to Israel to decide, though Netanyahu told his Cabinet that the United States had pressed for a pullback in 10 percent of the area. Netanyahu faced protests from members of his own camp and Cabinet who opposed handing over any more land to the Palestinians before there is a final peace agreement, which is to be completed in May 1999.

"The debate has been surprisingly against the agreement," Netanyahu spokesman David Bar-Illan said after the first few hours of Cabinet debate Thursday night.

In the end, the Cabinet voted 10-7 to approve this pullback; four members of parliament threatened to split from the governing coalition and to vote with the opposition in a no-confidence motion the opposition has scheduled for next week; the government still has enough support to win the vote.