Rabin doubts Israel will meet July 1 Palestinian accord terms

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin warned that Israel can only reach a partial accord on the next phase of Palestinian self-rule by the July 1 target date.

Israel is only willing to negotiate a partial redeployment of Israeli troops in the West Bank before Palestinian elections take place, Rabin told a joint session of the Knesset Finance Committee and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.

He said Israel's stance was within the terms of the Palestinian self-rule accord, which calls for an Israeli troop redeployment in two stages.

The Palestinians and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat have called on Israel to complete its redeployment before elections are held.

Recent news reports said Israel is willing to carry out an initial redeployment from four West Bank towns before elections: Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm and Kalkilya.

A redeployment from areas that create more problematic security concerns — Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron — would be worked out later, according to the reports.

Despite round-the-clock efforts by several teams of negotiators this week, gaps remain.

But Israeli sources say they are hopeful that an upcoming Rabin-Arafat meeting would resolve enough of the remaining disputes to provide for an agreement on the partial redeployment of Israeli troops. No date has been announced for the meeting.

In order to hold Palestinian elections in November, practical preparations must start during July, when teams of international observers would move into the territories to participate in the preparatory work.

Along with the election preparations, the sources say, talks would continue on a fuller IDF redeployment, though this would take place only in 1996, when key bypass roads — especially in the Bethlehem and Ramallah areas — are completed.

Rabin also complained to the Knesset committees of the high cost of the redeployment plan. He said the estimated cost of redeploying bases, headquarters and troops, as well as building bypass roads, has been put at $333 million.

Rabin was quoted as telling the joint committee session that he could save millions of dollars by uprooting Jewish settlements in problematic areas of the West Bank.

But he said he would stick to his promise not to dismantle any of the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the five-year interim period of Palestinian self-rule.

"At present, we are not discussing transferring, moving or uprooting any settlement," he later told reporters.

Opposition members blasted Rabin for his redeployment plan.

"This is not redeployment, it's withdrawal," Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters.

Redeployment would lead "to the entry of the PLO and Hamas into the towns of Judea and Samaria, and in later stages giving them the rest of the territory," he said.

Meanwhile, Jewish settlers on Monday opened a five-mile dirt road connecting the West Bank settlements of Almon, near Jericho, to Kfar Adumim outside Jerusalem without army permission.

The move came as part of a protest campaign launched last week against the planned Israel Defense Force redeployment in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair told Rabin Monday that settlers were acting illegally when they moved into 13 abandoned houses near the settlement of Barkan last week as part of their "Land of Israel First" campaign. The settlers may be ordered to evacuate.

But settlement leaders said the land is private property and that they are ready to defend their rights in court.