Angered by attacks from Islamic militants, Israeli officials have begun a major policy debate over whether they can keep a promise to the PLO to pull troops out of the West Bank before Palestinian elections.
In response, Yasser Arafat's self-rule Cabinet met Monday to discuss the issue, and a senior member, Saeb Erakat, called Israeli proposals for changing the Israel-PLO accord "dangerous."Israel's policy review began Sunday. Top army and Secret Service officials told the Cabinet that Islamic militants were gaining ground and said Arafat had failed to contain attacks on Israelis that have claimed 32 lives since October.
A second meeting is scheduled for Wednesday in which the 18-member Cabinet will debate a political solution to the problem.
"We must find a way to carry out elections in the territories while maintaining full security," Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was quoted as saying in the daily Haaretz newspaper.
Israeli public opinion toward the accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization has soured over the ongoing attacks. The government is frustrated because it is unable to defend the isolated settlements in Gaza and fears the situation will be worse in the West Bank.
Uri Dromi, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's government, said Monday Israel remained committed to the agreement but negotiations with the PLO were necessary to overcome early mistakes.
The first phase of autonomy went into force in Gaza and the West Bank area of Jericho in May.
Dromi said the key question was finding a way to address the accord's call for an Israeli troop withdrawal with the need to maintain security for the 120,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
"Holding elections is important, but the safety of Israelis is just as important and maybe has an overriding force," Dromi said, adding the issues will be raised Tuesday when Israeli and PLO negotiators meet in Cairo.
On Sunday, some Israeli Cabinet members suggested a change in the PLO-Israel pact was needed.