Cabinet says Israel must hold on to vast areas of West Bank

JERUSALEM (AP) — Hardening its position before a crucial Mideast peace summit in Washington, Israel’s Cabinet decided Wednesday the nation must keep large areas of the West Bank in a future accord with the Palestinians.
Illustrating the pressure on the government to stand firm, 20,000 right-wing Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Wednesday against ceding any West Bank land.
The Cabinet decision came a day after it imposed conditions on the Palestinians in exchange for Israel’s delayed West Bank troop pullback, diminishing the chances for the breakthrough the Clinton administration had hoped for next week.
The Palestinians angrily rejected Israel’s position.
“With this decision … the Israeli trick, which Netanyahu is trying to slip by the U.S. administration, manifests itself,” said Palestinian Cabinet minister Nabil Shaath. “Netanyahu is trying his utmost to torpedo the Washington meetings.”
Still, it was not clear whether Israel would stick to the conditions, and a senior U.S. diplomat said they should be considered opening positions only. “We are in a negotiation process. It is not surprising for the sides to be laying out postures,” said John Herbst, the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem.
President Clinton is to meet with Netanyahu on Jan. 20 and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat two days later.
Clinton reportedly expects Netanyahu to present a detailed plan for the troop pullback — one of three Israel owes by mid-1998. The Palestinians have full or partial control of 27 percent of the West Bank, and want the pullbacks to give them most of the rest. Netanyahu envisions only one minor redeployment.
Arafat called Israel’s position a violation of earlier accords.
“We are not asking for the moon,” he said in Hebron. “We are asking for what has been signed at the White House under President Clinton.”