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Government Side-tracks Gush Effort to Establish West Bank Settlements

The planned large-scale project of the Gush Emunim to create II settlements in the West Bank in one day was sidetracked today by an obscure pact with the government which led to opposition demands for a Knesset debate on the pact.

Gush leaders met last night with Premier Menachem Begin, convinced that he would approve the project scheduled for the first day today of the intermediate days of Succot. Begin, as opposition leader, had consistently supported the Gush Emunim’s commitment to create settlements in Samaria and Judaea.

The Gush leaders went into the meeting convinced the Premier would endorse their plans, which had been announced publicly as to time and place. However, the Premier, reportedly under intense U.S. pressure, rejected the plan. There were unconfirmed reports that Begin suggested that Gush settlers wear army uniforms when they settled in unoccupied army camps in Samaria and Judaea but the Gush leaders rejected the idea.

Reportedly, the Gush leaders heard tough talk last night and even threats that the Begin government would not hesitate to use force to remove any Gush member attempting to settle without prior permission, which was withheld. The government today made good the threat against a number of Gush members who defied their leaders. The Gush secretariat decided, after several marathon meetings, to yield on the issue. Negotiations lasted through Succot eve and were resumed last night, continuing until the early hours this morning.

GOVERNMENT ASKS FOR DELAY

While the government did not issue any statement on the pact and Gush leaders refused to say anything, it emerged that the government had asked the Gush leaders to delay any settlement efforts for 10 weeks. During that period, the would-be new settlers would join their comrades in existing settlements in Samaria to prepare for permanent settlement elsewhere.

The project, it was reported, was to be in stages. The first stage would involve six settlements to be settled by Gush members using unoccupied army camps, with the settlers wearing army uniforms and acting under formal mobilization orders. The would-be settlers, some 500 men and women, assembled in two groups, one in Jerusalem and one in Nehalim, a religious settlement near Petach Tikvah, where Gush secretariat members explained the situation and the purported agreement with the Begin government.

Reaction by many Gush members was hostile, one of them shouting that Begin no longer could make decisions independently because he had to get U.S. approval in advance for his decisions and that he reneged on his promises.

But the Gush members decided purportedly out of national unity considerations, to abide by Begin’s request, announcing that they had “decided to accept the government proposal.” They then moved on to Ofrd, Pe’erim, Maaleh Edumim and Kadum, officially-approved Gush settlements, to remain there until the Begin government gave them permission to proceed with the plans postponed today.

The Labor Alignment and the Democratic Movement for Change, told about the purported pact, reacted strongly, particularly against the reported plans to involve the army in the project. The two opposition parties said they considered such involvement polarization of the military and they are expected to make a formal request shortly for a Knesset debate.

GUSH MEMBERS ARRESTED, RELEASED

But one group of Gush settlers apparently decided to ignore the unpublicized pact. They started to move at midnight to Jericho, before the Gush secretariat decided to abide by the Begin government’s proposals.

A bus filled with settlers, several private cars, and two trucks loaded with equipment, emerged from Maalem Edumim headed for Jericho. On the outskirts of the town, army troops halted the procession. After some conversation, the entire convoy was put under arrest. Six of the leaders were turned over to Jerusalem police and the others released. The arrested six Gush members were released later after hearing warnings not to repeat illegal efforts at settlement.

Another Gush group allegedly misunderstood the Gush decision and headed for its planned site at Dotan, north of Jenin. When the Gush secretariat learned of this its members hastened to Dotan, reaching it before security personnel arrived. The would-be settlers dispersed quietly.

BEGIN CONFIRMS SIX SETTLEMENTS

In a late development tonight, Begin confirmed the reports that Gush members will be mobilized and set up settlements in six unused army camps on the West Bank. He told the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee details of the agreement by which the Gush movement agreed to defer further settlements, other than the six, and that those settlers will be permitted to bring their families with them.

Begin’s statement evoked sharp criticism from the Labor Alignment and the DMC. Yigael Yadin, head of the DMC, said that the involvement of the army in “this politically-natured movement” was a dangerous precedent.

Meanwhile, the Jericho group of Gush members was keenly disappointed at not being included in the first six settlements which are to be established by the end of this year. Members of that group said they might reject the Gush pact and make another try at settlement in Jericho. Some threatened to start a daily hunger strike opposite Begin’s home in Jerusalem to force the government to permit settlements in Jericho.

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