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Israeli Cabinet passes Hebron deal after tense debate

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Palestinian Cabinet easily OKs accord

January 15, 1997
Web posted at: 630 p.m. EST (2330 GMT)

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- After 12 hours of angry debate Wednesday, the Israeli Cabinet approved the new agreement on Hebron, while the Palestinian Cabinet easily passed the deal redeploying Israeli troops from most of the city and rural West Bank areas.

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The late-night Israeli Cabinet vote was 11-7, after former hard-line allies denounced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for betraying the conservative cause. Science Minister Benny Begin, son of Israel's late prime minister Menachem Begin, resigned in protest after the vote.

The Palestinian vote came earlier Wednesday evening. Members passed the historic accord by a large majority, said Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, but he declined to provide the vote count.

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Netanyahu had worked throughout the day to convince the hawks in his Cabinet that the agreement, which outlines a timetable for troop withdrawal, was in Israeli's best interest.

Late in the evening, Netanyahu canceled a news conference that had been scheduled after the cabinet vote, said his spokesman, Shai Bazak.

Israeli Cabinet approval of the deal is not required by law, but it is considered politically crucial to the stability of Netanyahu's Likud government.

TV report makes Israeli Cabinet jittery

To indicate how sensitive the Hebron debate is, the Israeli Cabinet suspended discussion for about a half-hour on the basis of an Israeli television report.

The program quoted an unidentified, low-level U.S. State Department official as saying Washington would not guarantee portions of the deal. Washington's support and guidance was instrumental in making the agreement happen.

U.S. Envoy Dennis Ross, who brokered the talks, promptly refuted the report. He called Cabinet members individually, after which they resumed their talks.

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Those familiar with the debate said Netanyahu was accused by one minister of giving away holy land and getting nothing in return. About 30 protesters gathered outside the meeting.

However, aides insisted that Netanyahu would have a majority among his 18 Cabinet ministers. An unofficial count was reported to be 11-7 in his favor. After the Cabinet votes, the agreement will be considered by the Israeli Knesset or parliament.

Ross describes the difficult process

Netanyahu and Arafat finalized the long-elusive agreement in late-night talks at the symbolically neutral Erez Crossing, on the border between Israel and the West Bank. Neither leader spoke to reporters, but they did shake hands.

Ross said in a CNN interview Wednesday that the negotiations were difficult because of their scope and importance to all involved.

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"This was not a simple problem because it has great emotional and symbolic significance for both sides," Ross said.


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The peace agreement calls for the redeployment of Israeli troops in three phases, ending no later than late 1998. That includes Israeli troop withdrawal from 80 percent of Hebron that was scheduled for last March.

About 150,000 Palestinians and 450 Jewish settlers live in Hebron, the last West Bank city under Israeli control. The remaining Israeli troops will serve primarily as protective forces for the Jewish settlers who live in the heart of the city.

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Details on how the redeployments will be carried out and how much territory will be turned over to the Palestinians remain to be worked out. Ross said the new agreement was not intended to spell out those details, but to reassert that all phases of the redeployment will be completed.

The accord includes a nine-page protocol on the Israeli troop withdrawal from Hebron and a three-page "note for the record," summarizing the agreement on further redeployments. Accompanying the document are letters from U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Netanyahu and Arafat.

 
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