Israel begins peace debate

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The Independent Online
THE ISRAELI cabinet finally began its long-delayed debate yesterday on the ratification of the United States-brokered agreement with the Palestinians under which Israel will make a limited withdrawal from the West Bank in return for security guarantees.

A majority of Israeli ministers are expected to agree to the deal, but doubts over its implementation increased yesterday when Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, established a special committee to examine the maps delineating areas to be handed over to the Palestinians.

The committee of six ministers, headed by Yitzhak Mordechai, the Defence Minister, includes three who are opposed to any withdrawal at all. One of them, Rafael Eitan, the Agriculture Minister, once referred to Palestinians as "cockroaches".

The committee will meet over the next three days and hear representations from experts and Jewish settlers on the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu wants to associate opponents of withdrawal with the land- for- security deal reached in Wye, Maryland, last month. But by allowing ministers opposed to the agreement such a significant say in its implementation the Israeli leader is further poisoning his relations with the Palestinians.

The US has largely supported the Palestinian position on the timing of the arrest of 30 Palestinian suspects, which led to Israeli delays in ratification. A senior US State Department official was quoted in the Israeli press as saying of Mr Netanyahu's refusal to convene the cabinet: "Netanyahu is playing tricks so as not to implement the agreement. We never trusted him and we've now received further proof that we were justified."