Knesset Committee Approves Plan for Four New West Bank Settlements

The Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee voted 149 today to approve a government plan to establish four new settlements in the Samaria region of the West Bank, proposed by Minister of Agriculture Ariel Sharon. The committee acted on the matter after the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) exercised its right under the coalition agreement to refer disputes over settlement policy to that Knesset body.

The DMC is opposed to the establishment of the settlements–Kamei Shomron, Tappuah, Tel Haris and Sillet E-Daher. Kamei Shomron has been settled already and the decision merely confirmed it. Sharon said that about 800 settlers are ready to populate the other sites during January, February and March.

Sharon told the committee, in the course of a heated debate yesterday, that the four settlements were located on barren, uncultivated land for from Arab population centers and did not require the expropriation of privately owned Arab land. He admitted, however, that some Arab-owned land had been seized by the army for military purposes –a legal form of expropriation–with the intention to turn it over to civilian settlers later.

Likud MK Yosef Tamir accused the government of surrendering to the Gush Emunim and abstained in the voting. Tamir suggested that more Jewish settlements be established in Galilee where the Arab population is growing instead of on the West Bank.

DIFFERENCES WITHIN DMC

Amnon Rubinstein, of the DMC, warned the government against taking any action that could possibly impede negotiations with Egypt. But another DMC member, Meir Zorea who supports the government’s settlement policy, denied that the new settlements would harm negotiations. He claimed that position indicated a “diasporaminded mentality.” Zorea voted against his party’s bid to cancel the government’s decision.

The committee voting was conducted under party discipline, meaning that members had to support party lines. Rubinstein objected, saying that by invoking party discipline, the DMC’s agreed right to bring settlement policy disputes to the Knesset committee was for all practical purposes nullified.

“We understood that the vote would be taken on a personal level allowing each MK to make up his own mind,” Rubinstein told reporters after the balloting. “Once the parties forced their discipline on the members of the committee, it was obvious that we had no chance,” he said.

Over the weekend, attention was focussed on a Cabinet decision to strengthen existing settlements in the Rafah salient of northern Sinai. The decision did not mention the creation of new settlements there. But the West Bank settlements also come up. Prof. Moshe Arens, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, told reporters yesterday that the Cabinet had shunted the dispute over the West Bank settlements to his panel.

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