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Begin: Settlement Policy Determined by the Government, Not Ministers

Premier Menachem Begin indicated in a series of interviews broadcast and published today that he would not countenance independent expressions of policy by members of his Cabinet. There is no policy of individual ministers, there is a policy of the government, he told interviewers when asked about recent statements by Minister of Agriculture Ariel Sharon. He also served notice on the Gush Emunim that while they may criticize the government, the settlement program will be carried out only according to government decisions.

The issue of settlements in the occupied Arab territories has brought Israel under severe criticism from the United States since the Begin government took office. Sharon, who heads the Ministerial Settlement Committee, was quoted by newspapers last week as saying that several new settlements were established in secrecy on the West Bank.

He subsequently denied making that statement. He was also quoted as saying that Israel would never withdraw from the Golan Heights although Begin has indicated to President Carter Israel’s readiness for certain withdrawals from the Golan in the framework of a peace treaty.

The Premier’s interview remarks were apparently directed at Sharon. Several Likud ministers have privately expressed the view that it was time to crack down on the outspoken Agriculture Minister. However, government secretary Arye Naor told newsmen after Sunday’s Cabinet session that there had been no discussion of the settlements question and no criticism of Sharon’s statements on that issue.

Begin’s remarks on the Gush Emunim indicated that he would restrain that militant group although he shares its contention that the West Bank is not occupied territory but a “liberated” part of Israel. The Gush have complained recently that the government has put a brake on their drive to colonize the West Bank.

TIME PAST FOR INTERIM ACCORDS

Begin’s other statements, published in Maariv and Yediot Achronot and broadcast on Kol Israel Radio and on television dealt with foreign policy matters.

With respect to peace negotiations, Begin said the time for interim agreements was past. What Israel wants now is full peace in accordance with historic precedents including diplomatic and consular relations, he said. He stated that his recent visit to Rumania was more than ceremonial but refused to go into details. He also defended Israel’s relations with South Africa. He said Israel was against racial discrimination but as a small, besieged nation, it cannot but accept any hand stretched out to it.

On the issue of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Begin charged that the U.S. position against any contacts with the PLO began to erode last March when Washington believed Premier Yitzhak Rabin would head the next Israeli government. Begin implied that it was his ascension to office that gave the U.S. pause on that issue. He claimed that if the American Administration had tried to pressure Israel to accept PLO participation at the Geneva conference Israel would have said no to the conference. He said it was inconceivable that Israel should help PLO chief Yasir Arafat and his associates topple the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan and set up a Palestinian state there.

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