Meretz may quit Rabin if deadline not met with PLO

JERUSALEM — The left-wing Meretz bloc has threatened to leave the governing coalition of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin if agreements with the Palestinians are not reached by a July 1 deadline.

The warning was conveyed during a meeting last week between members of the dovish party and Rabin.

The legislators told Rabin that Israel must meet a previously established July 1 target date for reaching agreement on the next phase of Palestinian autonomy — the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Arab population centers in West Bank towns and the holding of Palestinian elections.

"Even if July 1 isn't sacred to some people, it is as far as I'm concerned," Environment Minister Yossi Sarid told reporters after the 90-minute meeting with Rabin.

Rabin told the Meretz members that he would do all he could to reach an agreement, but added that he could not promise a deal by any particular date.

Israel Radio quoted Rabin as saying that he expected the redeployment of Israeli troops to be carried out in two stages.

The first would precede the Palestinian elections, which he expected to take place in the autumn. The second stage would take place later.

If Meretz left the coalition it could still support the government from the outside.

But without Meretz in the government, it would be harder for Rabin to make difficult decisions in peace talks with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon.

The Meretz warning came two days after two mostly Arab parties in the Knesset, Hadash and the Arab Democratic Party, forced Rabin to suspend plans to expropriate Arab-owned land in eastern Jerusalem.

Meretz had staunchly opposed the expropriations, but had not succeeded in preventing the government from initially approving them.

Meanwhile, reports that Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu had been ready to back the Arab parties' no-confidence motions in order to topple the government continued to stir up political tempests.

Abdel Wahab Darawshe, who submitted the motion for the Arab Democratic Party, told Israel Radio that Netanyahu had approached him several times in the last year. Netanyahu proposed banding together to topple the government and then forming a new coalition, Darawshe said.

"We refused — we are opposed on almost every issue," Darawshe said. "I told [Netanyahu], you are against Oslo, we are for it. You are against a withdrawal on the Golan. We are for it."

Netanyahu dismissed Darawshe's claims. He said some half-joking comments could have been made in the corridors of the Knesset — but that the Likud would never form a coalition with another party whose positions go against its basic platform.