JERUSALEM (July 13) - Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to confer today with his inner cabinet to formulate his plan to relinquish 13.1 percent of the West Bank in return for specific commitments by the Palestinian Authority to combat terrorism.
If he wins the consent of Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon, and Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky, the plan is to be submitted to the full cabinet for its approval later this week - prior to Sharon's departure for China on Thursday.
However, this is only expected to happen if PA Chairman Yasser Arafat replies satisfactorily to Israel's security demands. Since Arafat will be in China until Thursday, his reply could be delayed and the cabinet may not take action until after Sharon's return at the end of the month.
"The emphasis now is on the Palestinian Authority's practical and effective compliance with all the commitments it made in the Oslo Accords and the Hebron Agreement," a government source said. "We want to know how terrorism will be fought, what specific measures will be taken, and when they will be carried out."
He said the PA's anti-terrorist operations should include:
* confiscation of unauthorized weapons;
* prevention of the transfer of funds earmarked for Hamas from American and European donors;
* imprisonment of 200 terrorists suspected of murdering Israelis;
* a ban on anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian media and at public meetings.
Shrugging off PA Local Government Minister Saeb Erekat's statement that the Palestine Liberation Organization's Covenant already has been divested of its articles opposing Israel's existence, the source said the revision must be made by the Palestinian National Council, as stipulated in the document's text.
He indicated that the timetable for this action is flexible.
"It need not be completed before the first stage of the IDF's redeployment in the West Bank," he said, "but it must be done before the final stage."
Erekat lashed out at the Netanyahu government in a speech to the Israel Policy Forum's seminar on "Public Perceptions of Peace and Security," held at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu's foreign policy adviser, Uzi Arad, was listed as a co-speaker, but he was unable to participate because he is on a mission to Washington. The American Jewish Committee's Joseph Alpher took his place.
Today it really is up to the US whether the peace process can be revived or not," Erekat said. "Netanyahu must decide whether he wants [the Palestinians as] partners or whether he wants to go back to the dark squares of the past."
Erekat denied that the PA preferred to let the US negotiate with Israel rather than conduct direct talks itself.
"We never wanted the Americans to negotiate on our behalf," he said.
He said the presence of the US as the "third party" at the negotiating table was "simply to take notes and keep the record straight."
Responding to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's call for the resumption of bilateral talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives, Erekat said the PA's position will be that 40% of the West Bank must be transferred to its jurisdiction.
"This damned 13% is an American idea that we had to swallow," he said.
In contrast, Netanyahu communications director David Bar-Illan - who did not take part in the forum and said he would have advised Arad to stay away because of its one-sided composition - hailed Albright's support for the resumption of bilateral talks.
"This is a positive development," he said.
Erekat urged the US to publish its "report" dealing with the course of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to date. This would enable the Palestinian, Israeli, and American publics to find out how and why the peace process got bogged, he said.
He spelled out the procedure that led to the covenant's revision, in accordance with which a committee "worked for three months with a State Department official and after which PA Chairman Yasser Arafat instructed us to send the results to [President Bill] Clinton and [Prime Minister Tony] Blair".
"On January 22, 1998, Arafat was asked to do one more favor: to ask the PLO's executive committee to reaffirm the revision and he got it."
But Bar-Illan insisted that the covenant still contains "26 articles" that advocate Israel's destruction and therefore must be annulled.
Col. Mohammed Dahlan, director of the PA Preventive Security Apparatus, said yesterday at Van Leer that the PA is fighting terrorism despite the stalemate in negotiations and continues to foil terrorist attacks aimed at Israel.
"We are making sure that there won't be any terror attacks against Israel," he said.
Dahlan outlined steps taken by the PA to combat terror, including confiscating weapons and monitoring Hamas. He added that "Netanyahu wants us to execute half the Palestinian people and put the other half in jail."
"We're combatting terrorism alone," Dahlan said. "But we can't control a frustrated people whose idea of peace is dying. This situation is more complex than before the intifada."
(Steve Rodan and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.)