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Dispute over New Settlements

A serious dispute has arisen in the Cabinet over Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon’s plans to establish three new Gush Emunim settlements on the West Bank and a sudden flurry of activity by the Jewish National Fund in northern Sinai where heavy equipment reportedly is levelling land for the establishment of eight new settlements in the Rafah salient.

The Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) and some of Likud’s Liberal Party ministers have balked at Sharon’s plans. They warned that establishing new settlements on the West Bank at this time could have adverse political effects for Israel and may prejudice the entire peace momentous.

DMC ministers reportedly have said they would invoke the clause of their coalition agreement with Likud that allows them to bring disputes over settlement policy to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for decision. But Sharman claim that the decision to establish the knew Gush settlements was made, in principle, before the DMC joined the government and therefore is not subject to their agreement with Likud.

BULL-DOZERS AT YAMIT

Meanwhile, JNF chainman Moshe Rivlin confirmed that bull-dozers were of work in the Roach area near Yamit but he would neither confirm nor deny that they were preparing ground for new while {SPAN}###{/SPAN} “Whatever the JNF does is in strict accord

The situation may have been discussed at Tuesday’s special Cabinet meeting. But since the Cabinet sat as a ministerial defense committee, its deliberations are secret by law and there is only speculation as to what might have been discussed.

Meanwhile, the Housing Ministry is continuing to advertise for new settlers at Yamit, the coastal town in northern Sinai, and reports a growing response despite the possibility that the area will eventually come under Egyptian sovereignty. Last night the night the local population selection committee approved 15 new families for settlement at Yamit. Five families will buy flats there and the others will rent. Critics say, however, that this is no time for the government to be encouraging settlement in a region where the future is uncertain.

(In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Reston said today that the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv is checking reports of the use of bulldozers in northern Sinai but “it is not clear what is going on” there. Asked about reports of new Israeli settlement activity on the West Bank, Reston said the U.S. had no evidence that Israel was establishing settlements there “beyond those already planned.” He added that there was no change in American policy on the issue of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. “We consider such settlements in contravention of our policy,” he said.)

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