Prime minister facing hostility from political partners, enemies

JERUSALEM — In the week following the signing the latest Israeli-Palestinian accord in Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced challenges to his government from both ends of the political spectrum.

But Netanyahu easily survived a no-confidence motion submitted Monday by the far-right Moledet Party over the Wye Memorandum.

The agreement calls for an Israeli redeployment from an additional 13 percent of the West Bank in exchange for specific Palestinian moves to live up to their security commitments.

The no-confidence motion was defeated by a vote of 8 in favor, 21 against and 15 abstentions. A majority of Knesset members, including Netanyahu, did not show up for the vote.

The premier had the support of the Labor Party, which has said it would not topple the government in any measure opposing peace moves with the Palestinians.

Labor's decision to provide a safety net does not apply, however, to votes on other issues — including the 1999 budget, which the Knesset is slated to begin debating next week.

Before the no-confidence vote was taken, the premier suffered a defeat when a Knesset committee approved by a vote of 9-7 a bill calling for new Israeli elections.

The bill, which will now go to the full Knesset for a vote, was supported by hardliners in Netanyahu's governing coalition, as well as by opposition members seeking to topple the premier.

The chairman of the Knesset's law committee, Hanan Porat, whose National Religious Party opposes any further Israeli redeployments, said the bill would be put to a vote of the full Knesset in two weeks.

He added that if the bill passed all three votes that are required under Knesset rules, elections could be held as early as March 16.

On Monday, Netanyahu met with his Cabinet ministers to drum up support for the Wye agreement.

The cabinet originally was slated to vote on the accord Thursday. But on Tuesday, Netanyahu postponed the vote after determining that the Palestinians weren't working fast enough on the required plan to fight terrorism. The cabinet vote would take place only after the plan was completed, Netanyahu's office announced.

Since returning to Israel on Sunday, Netanyahu had portrayed himself as a tough negotiator who obtained important security concessions from the Palestinians in the Wye accord.

"We blocked many of the holes in the `Swiss cheese' of Oslo," Netanyahu said at an airport press conference Sunday. "We had to give up some of our land. This hurts, and this is difficult for each and every one of us…and therefore I have to tell you — and I am not exaggerating — we fought with all our strength. We fought like lions, to reduce [this loss] as much as possible."