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>Israel Faxx
>JN Jan. 17, 1997, Vol. 5, Number 11

Swiss Apologize to Jews

The Swiss economics minister has apologized for labeling as "blackmail" compensation demands for Holocaust victims, averting confrontation with Jewish groups. The Federal Council also pledged to examine whether it could soon pay Jews to make amends for anti-Jewish refugee policies in World War 2 and purchases of looted Nazi gold.

Knesset Votes to Confirm Hebron Accord

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli soldiers are dismantling and hauling away parts of their installations in Hebron, ending a nearly 30-year occupation in most of the city. Soldiers used cranes to load concrete blocks and guard towers onto trucks, and dismantled fixtures inside their headquarters, beginning the long-awaited withdrawal.

The Israeli withdrawals took place during the night to avoid confrontations with crowds of celebrating Palestinians.

But Israel will remain in control of about 20 percent of the city -- the area around compounds inhabited by about 400 Israeli settlers. The neighborhood also has 15,000 Palestinian residents.

The parliamentary debate started at 4 a.m. (EST) Thursday and lasted for about 12 hours, with each of the 120 legislators allowed to speak. However, the deal passed easily with the support of leftist opposition parties.

"What's the difference between us and Labor?" demanded legislator Uzi Landau, referring to the opposition party. "What will we tell our voters?"

"We have no say in anything," said another legislator, Reuven Rivlin. "What will we do if the Palestinians declare a state? How can we even stop them?"

In a sign of how inflammatory the issue was, Israeli Cabinet members who voted in favor of the deal were assigned bodyguards Thursday. And science Minister Benny Begin, son of Israel's late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, resigned in protest after the Cabinet vote.

The peace agreement calls for the redeployment of Israeli troops in the West Bank in three phases, ending no later than late 1998. That includes Israeli troop withdrawals from 80 percent of Hebron, a move originally scheduled for last March. Israeli paratroopers fanned out through the city to protect soldiers removing equipment and to prevent protests by Jewish settlers against the agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the debate with a pledge to protect Israeli settlers, despite the troop withdrawals, and an appeal to his fellow conservatives to accept what he called the "reality" of the peace process.

Speaking for Labor, former Foreign Minister Ehud Barak called this an important moment because Israel's right wing is formally signing on to the peace process and agreeing to give up parts of the biblical Land of Israel. He said Netanyahu owes an apology to the peace process founder, the late Labor Party Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Netanyahu says the Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank town of Hebron will be completed by this morning (EST). At a news conference during Thursday's long parliament debate, the prime minister said his redeployment plan is better and more secure than the original one and that he and the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, should work together for a lasting peace.

Netanyahu portrayed the Israeli troop movements as a re-deployment within Hebron, rather than a withdrawal. He said the last four months of difficult negotiations proved his government can improve on what the previous government left it.

"We modified it, or rather, modified it through implementation, through the details, to be a safer and better agreement. And I think the post-Hebron agreement in particular, where we, I think, received degrees of freedom of negotiation that weren't present before, I think this proves that we can achieve a better result towards the end."

Netanyahu said some seemingly vague clauses in the new agreement give Israel the authority to do what it needs to do on security issues, and the flexibility to proceed as it sees fit in further stages of the peace process.

Regarding his relations with Arafat, Netanyahu said while personal relationships are important in politics, in this case, it is the politics of the relationship that are most important.

"This is first of all a relationship between two peoples. And what guides us, I think, each in his own way, is to advance the interests of his people. What should guide us is also an understanding that in the interests of both peoples is the achievement of a durable and secure and lasting peace."

The prime minister acknowledged that no one knows what will come out of the next and final stage of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and that neither side will achieve everything it wants.

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