TEL AVIV (Dec. 27)
Yamit, the new development town on the coast of northern Sinai, was closed down for three hours today by a general strike called by the local residents to protest Premier Menachem Begin’s plan that would return all of Sinai to Egyptian rule. Beginning at 7 a.m. this morning no workers were allowed to enter or leave Yamit, stores, workshops, schools and kindergartens were shut as was the local yeshiva.
The worried settlers were reacting to published reports that the Yamit area and the surrounding settlements would revert to Egyptian sovereignty within three years and until then would be under United Nations protection. They said they were told by a Knesset personality whose name they refused to reveal, that the published version of the Begin plan was, in fact, correct and their fears therefore were warranted.
The establishment and development of Yamit had been a pet project of Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan when he was Defense Minister in the Labor government and had the support of the Labor-led regime. The authorities encouraged settlement there, especially by immigrants, as a place that offered opportunities and challenges to young, ambitious people with wide horizons. An American woman who settled in Yamit recently, Carol Road-blatt, told a reporter today “I did not leave Miami Beach to live under Egyptian rule. I came to live in Israel.”
David Margalit, head of the Yamit yeshiva, said a group of residents went to see Likud Knesset members to protest the Begin plan. “They are simply blinded by Begin’s moves,” he said. Another deputation of settlers went to Jerusalem today to demonstrate outside the Prime Minister’s Office while the Cabinet was in special session.
WIDESPREAD PROTESTS ERUPT
The scope of the protests was widened today by a meeting at Ofra of representatives of virtually all of the Jewish settlements, who came from Sharm el-Sheikh, Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. All of the speakers said they would fight the Begin proposals by all possible means, starting with a demonstration called for tomorrow in front of the Knesset building where Begin’s report on the negotiations with Egypt is scheduled for debate.
The Ofra meeting involved not only spokesmen for Gush Emunim but also representatives of other settlement movements. An agreement emerged from the heated discussions that the settlements should fight Begin under one overall committee.
Moshe Shamir of Likud and a member of the Greater Israel Movement, formerly one of Begin’s staunchest supporters, denounced the Premier, declaring he had “betrayed” his supporting voters. Shamir declared that the people of Israel were “drunk” with euphoria. He said the Begin proposal was a “folly” and a “grave mistake.”
Yigal Cohen, another Likud MK, rejected the idea of placing Israeli settlements in the Sinai under Egyptian or United Nations rule. Some observers said the presence of Rabbi Haim Drukman, a National Religious Party MK, among the demonstrators at Ofra might indicate a coming split within the NRP on the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations. In an earlier development, Zvi Shiloah, chairman of the Greater Israel Movement, resigned from the Likud Executive in protest against the Begin plan.
PRO-MAPAM GROUP COMMENDS BEGIN
(In the United States, meanwhile, there was a sharp reversal of attitudes toward Begin. The Mapam-oriented Americans for Progressive Israel-Hashomer Hatzair (API-HH) issued a statement today praising the Premier’s “new flexibility towards territorial concessions in return for peace.” But a group calling itself the National Union of Jewish Activists, led by Jewish Defense League founder Meir Kahane, denounced Begin’s plans for self-rule for the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
(The API-HH statement, issued by Moshe Kagan, chairman of its policy committee, said “We are encouraged at Prime Minister Begin’s new flexibility toward territorial concessions in return for peace in the Middle East. Begin, who has been known in the past to advocate a stand of ‘not one inch’ is now proposing many of the points contained in the Mapam peace plan issued following the Six-Day War and of which Begin was very often critical.” Kagan noted that, ironically, much of the criticism in Israel against Begin now comes from his own party.
(The National Union, many of whose members, including Kahane, had hailed Begin’s election victory last May, today condemned him for allegedly giving away “an inalienable part of the historic land of Israel which God has given exclusively to the Jewish people.” They accused the Premier of betraying “all of the great religious and nationalist principles” that he had “fought for all of his life” and of “surrender to international pressure for one-sided Israeli concessions.”)