Israels redeployment from West Bank doubles in cost

JERUSALEM — Israel's redeployment in the West Bank will cost $1 billion — double the planned amount, senior Israeli army officers have told the Cabinet.

Briefing ministers at the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, Maj. Gen. Ilan Biran, commander of a sector that includes the West Bank, said the higher cost covers the total redeployment scheduled to be completed by the end of 1997.

The revised estimate drew a sharp reaction from Finance Minister Avraham Shohat.

"I totally reject the amount of money that he talks about," Shohat told Israel Television.

Shohat said the government and army had previously agreed that the cost of the redeployment would be $500 million.

In efforts earlier this year to gain Cabinet approval of his 1996 budget, Shohat had engaged in marathon negotiations with the Defense Ministry and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin over the cost of redeployment, called for under the terms of the recently signed agreement for extending Palestinian West Bank autonomy.

Meanwhile, Biran and the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Amnon Shahak, told the Cabinet ministers Sunday that the redeployment plan was set to move ahead and that Palestinian elections would be held in the territories Jan. 20.

The redeployment from West Bank towns "will be completed at the end of December, with one exception in the case of Hebron," Environment Minister Yossi Sarid told reporters after the Cabinet session.

Some ministers expressed doubt that the timetable would be kept.

Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the redeployment would be delayed if Palestinian landowners attempted to prevent the expropriation of land needed to build the bypass roads.

The roads would allow Jewish settlers in the West Bank to avoid driving through population centers under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Agriculture Minister Yakov Tsur told Israel Radio that keeping the redeployment on schedule depended on a number of factors, including the Palestinian Authority's ability to live up to its commitments to curb terrorist activities in areas under its control.

"It will also depend on [completion] of the bypass roads," Tsur said, "and making sure that the Palestinians prepare what is needed to run the elections."

Meanwhile, the army was preparing for a pullback from Jenin, the first of six West Bank towns from which the Israeli army will redeploy completely by year's end.

The completion of the pullout could take until Nov. 10, Israel Radio reported.

A team of Palestinian liaison officers were scheduled to begin joint patrols with their Israeli counterparts this week in order to get to know the Jenin area and to prepare to take over internal security responsibilities after the Israeli pullback.