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Arafat Agrees to Delay Launch of Peace Pact

Mideast: Netanyahu gets more time to gain approval in Israel. Meanwhile, tempers flare over Jewish housing plans.

November 03, 1998|REBECCA TROUNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Displaying at least a temporary spirit of cooperation, Israel and the Palestinians agreed Monday to postpone the start of their interim peace agreement by several days.

The accord, reached at Maryland's Wye Plantation last month, was to have taken effect Monday.

But in a telephone call to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked for the delay to allow him more time to persuade his Cabinet and the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to approve the deal. The Cabinet is to start discussing the agreement today, although a vote will probably be put off until Wednesday, officials said; the parliament is to hold its debate next week.

Arafat, whose Cabinet approved the land-for-security deal Friday, agreed to the Israeli request in hopes of launching the accord in an atmosphere of goodwill, his aides said.

"He is acting as a partner to Mr. Netanyahu, and he replied positively to his appeal," said Ahmad Tibi, an advisor to the Palestinian leader.

Netanyahu promised, in turn, to try to hold to the agreement's complex timetable and carry out the first of three phased troop withdrawals from the West Bank by the scheduled date of Nov. 16 or soon after, he told reporters.

In Washington, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the delay in implementation should not set back the overall schedule for the peace agreement.

"My understanding is that based on the schedule of a Cabinet meeting shortly, and a Knesset vote shortly thereafter, and the timetable in the Wye memorandum, there's nothing standing in the way of the timetable being implemented and both sides fulfilling their responsibilities on schedule," Rubin said.

He added that Israel and the Palestinians will begin final status talks soon--possibly later this week--without U.S. participation. He also said that U.S. peace envoy Dennis B. Ross

will return to the region this week to consult with both sides on implementation of the Wye agreement.

During the first week of the pact's timetable, there are no major steps required of Israel, although several Israeli-Palestinian committees are scheduled to meet. The Palestinians were also required by Monday to outline for American officials a detailed program for battling anti-Israeli Islamic extremists.

There was immediate disagreement between the U.S. and Israel, however, over whether the Palestinian plan was sufficient, with State Department officials saying it met the Palestinian obligation under the accord.

Israeli officials said the Palestinian Authority has "still not completed [its] anti-terror work plan," and hinted that the failure could delay the Cabinet vote still further.

"Until we receive a message from the administration that a complete plan of action against terrorism has been received from the Palestinian Authority, we will not be able to bring the agreement to the Cabinet," said David Bar-Illan, a senior aide to Netanyahu. But he said Israel expected to hear from U.S. officials before the Cabinet discussions begin today.

The sensitive plan is not expected to be made public. But Arafat said the Israelis already know its contents.

There was little sign of compromise elsewhere in the region Monday. Violent clashes broke out in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem over a new Jewish enclave, and in Kiryat Arba, a Jewish settlement near the West Bank city of Hebron, Israel prepared the ground for construction of 200 housing units.

Netanyahu on Monday denied media reports that he had agreed, as part of the Wye accord, to slow expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

He said the government will continue to allow construction to accommodate population growth in existing settlements.

Israel has allocated more than $350 million in its 1999 budget for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, according to figures released Monday by the group Peace Now.

Palestinians view the settlements as endangering their hope of establishing an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza.

The United States also expressed concern about Israel's plans at Kiryat Arba. "We would not want to see unilateral actions of this kind taken," Rubin said, but he added that the U.S. was seeking more information.

In the Ras al Amud area of East Jerusalem, meanwhile, tensions flared over preparations for building at a Jewish-owned site in the Palestinian neighborhood. Baton-wielding Israeli police clashed with Palestinians protesting work on the property, where a planned Jewish housing project has been on hold for more than a year.

The police beat the group of about 20 protesters, led by Faisal Husseini, the top-ranking Palestinian Authority official in Jerusalem, to prevent them from entering the site, a perennial flash point.

Husseini was not injured, but three members of his party were, along with five police officers, officials said.

Times staff writer Norman Kempster in Washington contributed to this report.

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