Referendum likely, Palestinians urge U.S. pressure on Israel

JERUSALEM (AP) — Edging closer to calling a national referendum on an Israeli West Bank troop withdrawal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday he considered broad public consensus essential for any deal.
Meanwhile, the PLO said it complained to the U.N. Security Council about Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes — even as Israel destroyed five Arab homes in the West Bank on Tuesday.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat urged the Clinton administration to step up pressure on Israel and go public with a U.S. plan for a withdrawal from an additional 13 percent of the West Bank. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the appeal was contained in a letter by Arafat to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Albright has urged Netanyahu to make a decision quickly on the U.S. proposal, first introduced in January. Netanyahu has ignored informal U.S. deadlines and the United States has taken no action.
Israel’s Channel 2 said Netanyahu could announce as early as Wednesday a non-binding, nationwide vote on the U.S. proposal, which would only be used to gauge public opinion and would not legally rule out the withdrawal.
Such a referendum would delay a withdrawal for at least two months because parliament would have to pass special legislation first.
Jewish settlers who oppose any troop withdrawal from West Bank land, which they believe was promised to the Jews by God, protested outside Netanyahu’s office against any pullout deal.
Families pitched tents adorned with Israeli flags, hauled in portable bathrooms and brought provisions to stay for at least a month.
Also Tuesday, Israel and the Palestinians accused each other of violating an agreement not to make changes in Jerusalem until the disputed city’s future has been decided in peace talks.
On Sunday, Israel’s Cabinet approved a plan to extend Jerusalem municipal authority to nearby Jewish West Bank settlements, a step that falls short of annexation but strengthens ties between the settlements and the city.
In response, the Palestinians turned to the U.N. Security Council, requesting an urgent meeting on the plan, which they said was aimed at cementing Israeli rule over all of the city.
They also complained to the Security Council about the Israeli demolition of Arab homes.
Israel routinely demolishes Palestinian homes built without licenses in Jerusalem and areas of the West Bank still under Israeli control. The Palestinians say Israel rarely grants construction permits to Palestinians, forcing expanding families to build without permission.