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Israeli decision on control of West Bank could hinder new U.S. peace effort

SHARE Israeli decision on control of West Bank could hinder new U.S. peace effort

A day after setting conditions for new West Bank troop withdrawals, Israel's Cabinet decided Wednesday that vast areas of the West Bank must remain under permanent Israeli control in a final Mideast peace accord.

The back-to-back resolutions made it increasingly unlikely the latest U.S. initiative to break the deadlock in the peace talks will succeed. President Clinton is to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next Tuesday in Washington and with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat two days later.A senior U.S. diplomat said the Israeli decisions should be considered as opening positions for the negotiations.

"Our position on what comes next is well-known. We are looking for strong Palestinian efforts on security, and we are looking for a credible Israeli further redeployment," John Herbst, the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, told reporters.

The Palestinians hope to set up a state in most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Arafat said Wednesday the new Cabinet decisions violate peace accords that have already been signed.

"We are not asking for the moon," Arafat told reporters during a visit to the West Bank town of Hebron. "We are asking for what has been signed at the White House under President Clinton."

As Arafat arrived in Hebron, dozens of Palestinians threw stones at Israeli soldiers in the divided city, and troops responded with rubber bullets.

The protesters said they were marking the anniversary, according to the Muslim calendar, of the February 1994 mosque massacre in which a Jewish settler shot and killed 29 Muslim worshipers in Hebron.

The ministers did not define in detail what areas would remain under Israeli control, but in previous sessions they were shown two possible plans to keep either half or nearly two-thirds of the land.

The security zones listed in the Cabinet decision included the eastern and western edges of the West Bank, the area around Jerusalem, Jewish settlements, military bases, major north-south and east-west roads, water sources and historical sites.