Hebron Deal Near

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JERUSALEM: Yasser Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu met at midnight Monday in an attempt to complete an elusive deal on Israeli troop deployments in Hebron. Arafat is willing to allow Israel 11 extra months (until August of 1998) to withdraw troops from rural areas of the West Bank which, under the autonomy agreement, was to be done by this coming September. TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer reports that the agreement itself is not a major commitment for Netanyahu. "It is a hard step for him, a big step, but Netanyahu said during the campaign he intended to honor the Oslo accords. What will be a big deal is when -- and if -- he actually implements what he has committed himself to." If Arafat and Netanyahu shake on the deal and the chief negotiators initial the agreement on Wednesday, Beyer says the Israeli cabinet and Knesset could ratify it by Thursday. Israel would then have ten days to execute the redeployment from Hebron. Under eleventh-hour negotiation is the language of a series of "notes for the record," which codify each side's remaining obligations on issues ranging from changes to the PLO charter to the opening of a "safe passage" between the West Bank and Gaza. Still resisting all attempts at negotiation are the passionate critics in Netanyahu’s own government. The closer he moves to Arafat, the more tenuous is his control.