Israel Considers Hebron Withdrawal

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JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to pledge in principle next week to withdraw Israeli troops from the West Bank city of Hebron, but not without changes in the agreement with the Palestinian Authority. TIME's Eric Silver reports that Netanyahu wants to enlarge the area of Hebron under Israeli control and reduce the number of Palestinian security troops in the city of 94,000 Palestinians and 450 Jewish settlers. "Netanyahu can't make these changes unilaterally," Silver says. "Palestinians are extremely reluctant to yield any more land or leverage in Hebron to the Israeli army and settlers." Hebron is the last West Bank city under Israeli control, and the only place in the West Bank where Jews and Arabs live in such proximity. The redeployment is seen as a test of Netanyahu's commitment to the Oslo peace accords. "This is being taken be everybody as the touchstone of Netanyahu's seriousness with going ahead with the peace process," Silver reports. "It's easy to say you are going to abide by past peace agreements, but people are looking for concrete steps. This is the first step that has to be taken, and it shouldn't be subject to negotiation." Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat did not contest former Prime Minister Shimon Peres' decision to delay the withdrawal until after elections in May. Silver reports that the Palestinians will be much less accommodating to the new hard-line Israeli government. "If the whole thing disintegrates, there is a serious danger of violence," Silver says. "People talk about the return to the intifada. But now that there are 30,000 armed Palestinian police in areas not under Israeli rule, there is a real danger of an armed struggle as well as having 12-year-olds throwing rocks at Israeli police." -->