Redeployment adds heat to Netanyahu fire

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a looming threat to his government over further Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank.

Netanyahu, under pressure from the Clinton administration, is reportedly proposing that Israeli troops withdraw from 6 to 8 percent of rural areas of the West Bank currently under sole Israeli control.

The plan is conditioned on a Palestinian commitment to fight terrorism and an agreement to move to final-status talks.

Hard-line members of Netanyahu's coalition this week threatened to bring down the government if such a handover is implemented.

Palestinian officials have already rejected the leaked proposal as insufficient.

In an effort to avert a crisis, Netanyahu convened his Cabinet ministers Wednesday to discuss the principles of further redeployment and final-status talks.

No vote was taken at Wednesday's meeting, a decision Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh attributed in part to the fact that not all of the ministers had a chance to speak during the six-hour session.

A vote is not expected until next week at the earliest.

One of the ministers who did comment at the meeting, Transportation Minister Yitzhak Levy of the National Religious Party, said he opposed carrying out the redeployment.

Netanyahu faced pressure from his more dovish coalition partners as well.

Foreign Minister David Levy told Israel Radio on Wednesday that he would consider it a "waste of time" to remain in the government if the coalition were to bring the peace process to a halt.

Speaking for the opposition, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak warned about the diplomatic standstill and called on government officials to prepare for "armed guerrilla warfare" with the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, in the Knesset, Likud coalition chair Meir Sheetrit tried to convince his Likud colleagues Wednesday that a Palestinian state could be established, and if so, it should be done when a Likud government was in power.

Earlier in the day, Sheetrit had the embarrassing task of canceling a coalition meeting with Netanyahu to discuss political developments, when only a handful of legislators showed up.

In addition to the pressure from his coalition, Netanyahu has been facing pressure from the U.S. administration to take serious steps to restart the long-stalled negotiations.

Aides to Netanyahu said this week that the prime minister was no longer seeking a meeting with President Clinton next month.

Naveh told reporters that such a meeting was not on Israel's agenda, but reports circulated in Israel that Netanyahu was angry at the pressure emanating from Washington and at Clinton's apparent unwillingness to meet with him.