A Slap In The Face

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JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to slow the withdrawal of his troops from the town of Hebron, the last occupied town in the West Bank. His proposal will contradict part of the Israel-PLO autonomy accord agreed to by PLO leader Yasser Arafat and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai will present the proposal, which calls for Israeli troops to continue to patrol both the streets of Hebron and the corridor between Hebron and the nearby Israeli town of Kiryat Arba, gradually pulling out if no violence occurs. An Israeli government spokesman said the plan simply increases attention to security issues, but Ahmed Qureia, speaker of the Palestinian legislative council, dismissed it entirely as a violation of earlier agreements: "We do not accept anything short of the implementation of the accord. The negotiations cannot be reopened." Under the original agreement, Israeli troops would vacate 80 percent of Hebron, a city of 94,000 Palestinians, and only patrol about 20 percent of the area, providing security for 450 Israeli settlers. "The proposal is a slap in the face to the Palestinians," says TIME's Johanna McGeary. "Netanyahu is trying to do the minimum he can to keep to the letter of the accords while serving his security conscious constituents and the noisy little community of Jewish settlers in Hebron. The PLO knows that no new accords are on the horizon, and are determined to make Netanyahu stick to the agreements. The redeployment would simply serve to end the visible presence of the Israeli army, making the Palestinians feel sovereign in their own city. Not getting that is a big deal to the PLO." Terence Nelan